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Researchers Use 3D Priting to Potentially Help Hearing Loss

In the United States, one in eight people aged 12 years or older has hearing loss in both ears. Hearing loss can usually be improved, at least slightly, with the help of hearing aids, but researchers at Baltimore’s University of Maryland School of Medicine are trying something completely different.

The researchers are in the process of creating a tool which consists of 3D custom printed “bones” that will be implanted into the ear. Dr. Jeffrey Hirsch is an assistant professor of radiology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. He spoke with Digital Trends about the new creation.

“Conductive hearing loss occurs when the continuous chain of three tiny middle ear bones — the ossicles — is disrupted, by trauma, disease, or infection,” Hirsch said. “If you think of the bones as three connected links of a chain, the middle link or the incus bone is most commonly affected. A well-established procedure called ossiculoplasty or ossicular reconstruction uses a prefabricated prosthesis that is felt to have suboptimal success rates. Our work involves fabrication of a custom-designed prosthesis that would be a snap-fit replacement to restore the missing middle link of the chain.”

The researchers want to prove that a better fit will help to improve the surgery’s success rate, thus restoring hearing loss where previously it was impossible. The end result would be improved hearing for untold numbers of Americans, which could improve the quality of life of countless individuals.

Hirsch and his colleagues studied 3D printing and removed the removed the middle bone in the ossicular chain, replacing it with the artificial bone. The team was able to restore continuity in three ears.

Hirsch spoke with Geek.comregarding their findings.

“This study highlights the core strength of 3D printing—the ability to very accurately reproduce anatomic relationships in space to a sub-millimeter level,” Hirsch said. “With these models, it’s almost a snap fit.”

Next, the team plans to create a prosthesis out of biocompatible materials. They plan to study the ways the materials are able to transmit sound. They also want to look into a different approach for utilizing 3D printing and stem cells.

“Instead of making the middle ear prosthesis solid, you could perforate it to be a lattice that allows stem cells to grow onto it,” Hirsch suggested. “The stem cells would mature into bone and become a permanent fix for patients with hearing loss.”

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