The first few times I saw news reports about 3D printing, I thought it was pretty ingenious. People could use it to build 3D models of vases or even, a 3D model of a fetus from an ultrasound.
But now, I’m completely blown away by what it can do. This past weekend on CBS News Sunday Morning, they showcased how scientists are using 3D printers and living cells to craft new human tissue. So far, they’ve used it to build tumors from cancer patients’ biopsied tumors, which will enable them to easily grow several copies of the tumor and test out a number of different treatments at once, to figure out what’s going to work best on each patient’s particular cells. But the other application they showcased is the one that intrigued me more: They grew a human ear.
You see, my daughter was born with microtia, a birth defect that impacts her ear. She has a normal ear on her left, but her right ear is small and misshapen, and there’s no ear canal. So far, it hasn’t impacted her life too much—she hears pretty well (better if she actually wears her hearing aid), she has both of her ears pierced, and other than a few questions from her classmates, it’s pretty much a nonissue for her. We love her “special ear,” and she knows it’s just something unique about her. But I know how kids can be cruel, and I worry that as she hits the teen years, she’s going to become self-conscious about it.
Right now, there are two ways people can replace a microtic ear with one that looks more like a traditional ear. They can get a prosthetic, which looks more natural but usually has to be removed for bathing, swimming and sleep. Or they can go through a series of several painful surgeries to sculpt a new ear, using either Medpor, a medical-grade artificial scaffolding, or a rib graft. But the results of the plastic surgery aren’t always great, and I’ve seen too many ears that look “off.” I wouldn’t subject my daughter to that without her being totally on board with it.
But with the 3D printing, a sample of cells could be cultured, then “printed” out in the exact shape of her ear. She could have a brand new ear in a few weeks—and it would simply be one surgery to remove the microtic ear and place the new ear beneath the skin.
What’s even cooler is this new bionic ear that someone else created, an amalgam of the 3D printing using living tissue and technology. So maybe she can skip the hearing aid and hear on her own, through her new bionic ear.
I’m already dreaming up ways that this technology could eventually be used—to grow new body parts for people who lost a finger or a hand. To build new kidneys or a new lung for someone in need of a transplant. To repair a broken spinal cord. But right now, I’m just focusing on that miraculous homegrown ear.
Image: Lawrence Bonassar, associate professor of biomedical engineering at Cornell University, with an artificial ear grown using 3D printing, by Lindsay France/Cornell University
Likely Basis of Birth Defect Causing Premature Skull Closure in Infants Identified
An international team of geneticists, pediatricians, surgeons and epidemiologists from 23 institutions across three continents has identified two areas of the human genome associated with the most common form of non-syndromic craniosynostosis ― premature closure of the bony plates of the skull. (via ScienceDaily)
Flame Retardants Used in Foam Upholstered Furniture and Other Products Linked to Neurodevelopmental Delays in Children
Prenatal and childhood exposure to flame retardant compounds are linked to poorer attention, fine motor coordination and IQ in school-aged children, a finding by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley’s School of Public Health that adds to growing health concerns over a chemical prevalent in U.S. households. (via ScienceDaily)
Study: Youngest Kids in Class May Be More Likely to Get ADHD Diagnosis
A new study from Iceland adds to existing evidence that kids are more likely to be diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder if they’re among the youngest in their grade at school. (via US Health News)
Study: One in 20 Youth has Used Steroids to Bulk Up
If the government is unable to resolve the looming debt crisis, federal education programs for elementary and high schools will lose a little over $2 billion starting next fall. (via Reuters)
Mother’s Blood Shows Birth Defects in Fetal DNA
Researchers said they were able to sequence the entire genome of a fetus using only a blood sample from the mother, an advance in the effort to find noninvasive ways for expectant parents to determine if their babies will be born with genetic conditions. (via Fox News)
Smoking Mothers’ Embryos ‘Grow More Slowly’
French academics in an IVF clinic took regular pictures of an egg from the moment it was fertilized until it was ready to be implanted into the mother. At all stages of development, embryos from smokers were consistently a couple of hours behind, a study showed. (via BBC News)
Too Much Coffee Could Hurt Women’s Chances of IVF Success
Women who drank five or more cups of coffee a day were about 50% less likely to get pregnant through in-vitro fertilization than non-drinkers, according to a recent Danish study. The authors noted it was “comparable to the detrimental effect of smoking.” (via TIME)
Company Studying OxyContin’s Effect in Children
The maker of the prescription painkiller OxyContin confirms that a clinical trial is currently underway to measure the opioid’s effects in children. Although doctors can prescribe OxyContin off-label to pediatric patients, the drug — which was overwhelmingly tested in adults — is not approved for use in children by the Food and Drug Administration. (via CNN)
Premature Birth May Raise Risk for Mental Illness, Study Reports
Young adults born very premature — at less than 32 weeks’ gestation — were more than twice as likely to be hospitalized for schizophrenia or delusional disorders, almost three times as likely for major depression, and more than seven times as likely for bipolar illness. (via NY Times)
Birth-Defect Risk Seen in Assisted Conception
An Australian survey of about 300,000 pregnancies, with more than 6,000 resulting from fertility treatments, found that treatment was associated with a 28 percent greater risk for birth defects.
Watching TV Linked to Poor Diet in Students
A national survey of more than 12,000 students in grades 5 to 10 has found that television viewing is associated not only with unhealthy snacking while watching, but also with unhealthy eating at all times.
First Lady Has Plan to Get Kids Involved in Sports
The first lady is partnering with the U.S. Olympic Committee, the Partnership for a Healthier America, U.S. Paralympics and numerous national governing bodies that have pledged their time and resources toward introducing young people to their sports over the course of the summer.
Underground Figures and Overachievers February’s designation as Black History Month remains controversial (Why confined to a single month? Why the shortest month?), but the release of books highlighting African American history and themes is now a predictable part of the publishing and school curriculum calendars. And while they differ wildly in tone, consider two books: “Giant Steps to Change the World,” confident and inspirational; “Underground,” mournful and stark. Both seek to convey a sense of much trammeled, Obama-style hope. (New York Times)
For Schools, Free Art Supplies, and Much More Talim Johnson inched along toward the check-out counter, looking over her school’s shopping list to make sure she had not missed anything. Construction paper. Colored paper of various thicknesses and textures. File holders. Three-ring binders. Posters to brighten up the hallways. And a mannequin. “This is a hot item,” said Ms. Johnson, who teaches at the High School for Fashion Industries in Manhattan. (New York Times)
Strides by Women, Still a Wage Gap Women are gaining ground educationally and economically, but men still make more money on average and women are more likely to live in poverty, according to a White House report expected to be released Tuesday. (Wall Street Journal)
A Push for More Pregnancies to Last 39 Weeks For an unborn baby to develop fully, obstetrics groups firmly recommend 39 weeks in the womb—and not a day less, if labor will be induced without a medical reason. (Wall Street Journal) Opioid Pain Killers Linked to Increased Risk of Some Birth Defects (HealthNewsDigest.com) – Babies born to women who take opioid pain killers such as codeine, oxycodone or hydrocodone just before or in early pregnancy are at increased but modest risk of birth defects, according to a study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (Health News Digest)
February is also American Heart Month and Fox News anchor Bret Baier of Special Report with Bret Baier spoke to Parents.com recently about parenting a son with congenital heart disease. At 3-years-old, Paul was born with five congenital heart defects and has already underwent two surgeries. Even though congenital heart defects are a common birth defect, they are rarely detected. Read excerpts from Baier’s interview below:
Congenital heart disease isn’t necessarily inherited — what are some methods of early detection? What are signs of a congenital heart defect? Are there ways to prevent it?
When you start talking about congenital heart defects, it’s amazing how common they are. I think one in 150 children has some sort of congenital heart defect and, out of those, half of them need surgery in the first year. Now, a lot of this can be detected by measuring the oxygen level of your blood. If there were a mandated check at hospitals when babies are born, this could be detected early.
What advice do you have for parents who need support in raising children with life-threatening conditions, defects or diseases? What suggestions do you have for promoting awareness of this issue?
Congenital heart defects are under the radar, unfortunately, especially regarding children. There is no awareness about how prevalent it is. Just the other day, the president signed the American Heart Month proclamation, and it does good things concerning heart disease, but it doesn’t deal with heart defects. The key thing is to work with your doctor, have confidence in what’s happening, and have family and friends rally around you. We got through our experience because of all the people that helped out. You realize how important family and friends can be.