CAD Ears

3-D printing is one of the most fun tech innovations of the last few years. It is will become an important and widespread manufacturing technique and I’m constantly surprised at the new items being printed.

The latest that caught my fancy was the Bonassar’s printed ears featured in a webcast from Cornell U (1). The ink consists of a bio-gloop with viable live cells and the printer prints out an ear. The raw ear is then incubated for two months to let the cells do what live cells do and then an ear-shaped piece of cartilage is ready to be implanted for the tissue to grow around. Home printed cartilage is much more likely to last longer and work better than silicon-based plastics. 

The lab scans someone’s head the get a digital image of their ear, which is then fed to the printer. At this point questions bubble up. For example, what would they have done with van Gogh? Would the have scanned his other ear and digitally inverted it? He would then have been in possession of a pair of perfectly matched ears, a very unusual situation.

The thoughts move on to would there be a demand among cosmetic surgery junkies seeking perfection to have their ears changed to scanned versions of George Clooney’s or Britney Spears? Would the old Star Trek fans be clamoring for Vulcan ears?

Once we move into ideas for doggy cosmetic surgery our imaginations could run riot, but there is, of course, some important possibilities. I heard a BBC news item about how a tail-less dolphin was coping with an artificial tail. Dolphin tail-trouble is not as rare an occurrence as might be imagined. In Japan, the vets persuaded Bridgestone tires to make a rubber tail for Fuji as far back as 2004 (2).


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