Researchers at the University of Maryland School of Medicine have designed custom implants that could help treat a damaged middle ear. More specifically, the implants replace tiny bones in the middle ear called ossicles.
The ossicles in the ear can become damaged due to several infections back to back or from trauma to the ear, resulting in conductive hearing loss. Conductive hearing loss is when sound cannot get through the middle and outer ear.
The damaged bones can be replaced through surgery. Currently, custom-made steel or ceramic pieces are inserted to replace the damaged bones in the ear. But, there is a big chance that the surgery will be a failure because the pieces aren’t the right size.
Now, with the power of precise 3D printers, scientists are able to create implants that fit perfectly in patients ears, replacing the broken ossicles.
The process is very simple- patients go in for a CT scan that makes a 3D image of the person’s middle ear. Then, that image is printed using 3D printers with “sub-millimeter” accuracy.
The 3D printed implants are much more accurate than the past implants. Patients could experience a shorter surgery time and a higher chance of successfully repairing their middle ear.
The University of Maryland researchers say that they hope to someday create permeable implants instead of solid ones. This would allow the body to grow stem cells into the implant, possibly restoring hearing loss.
This bone implant is not a cure for hearing loss, but with time it may be a good treatment for those with conductive hearing loss. It is a glimpse into our future and shows us how with each day technology continues to advance.