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Living ear tissue bioprinted by 3DBio Therapeutics. Photo: 3DBio Therapeutics

A startup is applying for clinical trials of its method of 3D bioprinting living ear cartilage tissue that could be transplanted onto patients.

Why it matters: 3DBio Therapeutics' product would make a difference for thousands of children born with a rare congenital deformity, but it also demonstrates the way forward for the precise manufacturing of tissue for implantation and other medical products.

Background: Children born with microtia — which occurs in roughly 1 out of every 5,000 births — never fully develop their outer ear, which is mostly cartilage. The most commonly used surgical treatment involves removing cartilage from the ribs and sculpting it into a framework shaped like an ear.

  • But that can involve multiple surgeries under anesthesia for young children, which is painful and has "aesthetic results that are very limited," says Dan Cohen, c0-f0under and CEO of 3DBio Therapeutics.

How it works: Using a therapeutic-grade bioprinter — a form of 3D printing that can produce tissue using bio-ink, rather than liquid plastic or metal — 3D therapeutics can print out living, ear-shaped tissue.

  • The bio-ink is seeded with the patient's own ear cartilage cells, and the final product is matched in shape for implantation.
  • "You don't have to carve out a child's ribs, and you don't have inpatient nights in the hospital," says Cohen. "It can be a streamlined, outpatient procedure."

What's next: 3DBio Therapeutics has received orphan drug and rare pediatric disease designations from the FDA for its ear cartilage bioprinting treatment, which should speed its application for clinical trials.

The bottom line: The field of bioprinting is growing, and it could advance to the point of producing personalized organs to replace body parts as they wear out.

Go deeper

Updated 4 hours ago - Technology

From Malcolm X to "Free Britney," new media shapes the justice system

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

True crime documentaries, podcasts and social media campaigns are bringing new attention to real-world legal proceedings — and are often affecting the outcome.

Why it matters: New media platforms can instantly put a national spotlight on cases that have long been forgotten or buried under red tape.

Updated 7 hours ago - Health

The next big bottleneck in the global vaccination effort

Illustration: Rae Cook/Axios

The world still needs more coronavirus vaccines, but an additional bottleneck has emerged in many low-income countries: They need help getting shots in arms.

Why it matters: Increasing vaccination rates across the world is both a humanitarian necessity and the best way to prevent dangerous new variants from emerging, but it increasingly requires complex problem-solving.

Updated 7 hours ago - Health

COVID-19 Omicron variant cases identified in Europe, U.K.

People wearing masks walk in London on Nov. 25. Photo: Li Ying/Xinhua via Getty Images

Health officials in the United Kingdom, Italy and Germany announced on Saturday that they've detected the first known cases of the new COVID-19 Omicron variant.

Why it matters: The discoveries come as the world scrambles to respond to concerns over the new variant, discovered in South Africa earlier this week.