We’ve all heard the story of the famous Dutch painter Vincent Van Gogh and how he sliced off his left ear in a fit of rage. Well I’m sure he looked back on that incident with regret, wishing he could take that moment back and have his ear reattached soon after.

Well scientists are now working to make that a reality, using 3-D printing to recreate a customized ear cartilage using living cells. Associate professor of biomedical engineering at Cornell University Lawrence Bonasser and his colleagues have been working to develop a more efficient replacement ear.

Typically with a newborn born without an exterior part of the ear suffering from microtia, doctors extract rib cartilage in an attempt to make a replacement that resembles an actual ear. Unfortunately, these replacements don’t always look right and lack the firm structure of the original ear.

This is where bioprinting steps up to play. Lawrence Bonasser and his team at Cornell initially scan an actual human ear and use that to produce a computer model. Then they use a 3-D printer in order to build a plastic mold based on the scan. From there an injection “soup” of collagen, living cartilage cells, and culture medium are placed in the mold.  The “soup” then solidifies into a jello-like substance. From there “You inject the mold, and in 15 minutes you have an ear ready to go,” says Bonasser. Not literally ready to go, as a surgeon would need to attach it, but concept of a bioprinted artificial ear that is ready for implementation is there.

Bonasser feels that starting with the ear is a good place to demonstrate the use of this bioprinting technology because “it has a very complicated shape, it has complicated mechanics as well. Your ear is remarkably durable and flexible but still stiff enough to hold its shape,” Bonasser goes on to agree with many other experts in the bioprinting field that the technology could move into mainstream conversation and become a reality, referring to bioprinting’s foundation in concepts people are already familiar with in the medical field.

Check out the video here: