Doctors will help end hearing loss by 3D printing tiny prosthetic ear bones

3d printed hearing middle ear prosthetic implant
Radiological Society of North America
We’ve covered some pretty smart hearing aids before at Digital Trends, but the work being done by researchers at Baltimore’s University of Maryland School of Medicine is something else entirely. Rather than creating an external hearing aid or even an in-ear cochlear implant, they are using 3D printing to fabricate the tiny bones in the middle ear to help restore hearing in instances when these bones have become damaged.

“Conductive hearing loss occurs when the continuous chain of three tiny middle ear bones — the ossicles — is disrupted, by trauma, disease, or infection,” Dr. Jeffrey Hirsch, assistant professor of radiology at the university, told Digital Trends. “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 hope is that a better fit will improve the success rate of surgery to restore conductive hearing loss.”

As Hirsch notes, ossiculoplasty as a surgical procedure goes way back. There are reports of it having been practiced since 1901. However, current methods can restore hearing levels of less than 20 decibels in just half to three-quarters of cases. Several things might account for this less-than-perfect success rate, but the hope is that using 3D printing to create submillimeter-accurate custom prosthesis could greatly help.

3d printed hearing middle ear prosthesis

In the team’s study, they used three cadaver middle ears, in which the middle link bone was removed. Using CT imaging of each middle ear section, they then designed and printed a custom prosthesis to bridge the gap created by the missing bone.

“We asked four different surgeons to match the custom-designed prosthesis to the parent native middle ear without any prior knowledge of which prosthesis goes in which native middle ear,” Hirsch said. “Each surgeon was able to correctly match the prosthesis to its native parent middle ear. The chances of that occurring randomly are one in 1,296. We felt this shows our methods to produce a 3D-printed prosthesis captured small, yet meaningful, variances in middle ear anatomy that were detectable by otologic surgeons.”

Next, the team hopes to investigate different biocompatible materials to see how well a 3D-printed prosthesis is able to conduct sound. It may be a while before this work hits prime time, but when it does, the results could be transformative. A paper describing the work was published in the journal 3D Printing in Medicine.

Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: Click-to-brew beer, comfy headlamps, and more

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the Web this week. You can't buy this stuff yet, but it sure is fun to gawk!
Movies & TV

Stay inside this summer with the best shows on Hulu, including 'Castle Rock'

It's often overwhelming to navigate Hulu's robust library of TV shows. To help, we've put together a list of the best shows on Hulu, whether you're into frenetic cartoons, intelligent dramas, or anything in between.

These are the best Xbox One games out right now

More than four years into its lifespan, Microsoft's latest console is finally coming into its own. From 'Cuphead' to 'Halo 5,' the best Xbox One games offer something for everyone.

Samsung exec confirms upcoming Galaxy S10 will sport 'very significant changes'

While we still may be months away from an announcement, there's no doubt about it: Samsung is working hard on its successor to the Galaxy S9. Here's everything we know about the upcoming Samsung Galaxy S10.
Emerging Tech

Removing ‘zombie cells’ in the brain could help battle the effects of dementia

Researchers at the Mayo Clinic have demonstrated how the removal of so-called "zombie cells" can help reverse the effects of dementia-style cognitive decline in mice. Here's what they did.
Emerging Tech

NASA’s planet hunter satellite gets first hit in its search for another Earth

NASA's planet hunter satellite TESS has discovered a new Earth-like planet. At only 62 light-years distant, the new find is much closer than the Kepler Mission's 2015 exoplanet discovery -- that one was 155 light-years distant.
Emerging Tech

New mask-mounted head-up display gives Navy combat divers tactical advantage

Divers are often forced to work in low-light conditions where visibility is limited or all-but nonexistent. In order to help solve this problem, the Navy has developed a new head-up display known as Shadow Nav.
Emerging Tech

From flying for fun to pro filmmaking, these are the best drones you can buy

In just the past few years, drones have transformed from a geeky hobbyist affair to a full-on cultural phenomenon. Here's a no-nonsense rundown of the best drones you can buy right now, no matter what kind of flying you plan to do.
Emerging Tech

Roll over, SpotMini — here comes the ALMA robo-dog

If two robo-dogs met on the street, would one try to sniff the mechanical components at the rear of the other? We have no idea, but with at least two different rob-dogs now making real advances, we may soon find out.
Emerging Tech

A Japanese spacecraft just landed two rovers on an asteroid

Japan's space agency has succeeded in landing two rovers on the surface of an asteroid around 200 million miles from Earth. The deployment is part of a bold mission aimed at unlocking some of the mysteries of our solar system.
Emerging Tech

3D-printed gun advocate extradited to Texas to face sex-assault charges

Cody Wilson, the founder of Defense Distributed, has been arrested in Tawan. U.S. law enforcement have reported that they are working with Taiwanese authorities to have Wilson returned to the U.S. where he faces charges of sexual assault.
Emerging Tech

Eye-tracking tech lets you control a drone by looking where you want it to move

Put down your smartphones and other drone controllers. Researchers have invented a method to allow drone pilots to fly drones using a pair of eye-tracking glasses. What could be simpler?
Emerging Tech

This mirror-wielding robot arm behaves in a freakily lifelike manner

Created by German-based artist Piet Schmidt, this robot arm project will come close to tricking you into thinking it's a real creature, based on its behavior. Check it out in action.
Emerging Tech

This app-controlled prosthetic tail may be the weirdest wearable device yet

San Diego Comic-Con may be almost a year away, but it’s never too early to start preparing your cosplay costume. This wearable animatronic tail, controlled via your smartphone, should help.