Surgical Tribune Europe

Scientists develop ear implants with a memory

By Surgical Tribune
April 10, 2014

HANOVER, Germany: Today, 3-D printers can print almost everything. The challenge, however, is to print highly precise and small parts made of materials that are difficult to process. Scientists at the Laser Zentrum Hannover (LZH) have demonstrated the laser manufacture of tiny implants with a memory function for complex shapes, such as the cochlea of the human inner ear.

In the field of medical technology, laser additive manufacturing (LAM) offers new possibilities for treatment, for hearing-impaired persons for example. Inserting an implant into the tiny cochlea requires the utmost care. During the procedure, the surgeon runs the risk of destroying intact sensory cells, which would diminish the patient’s hearing even further. The micrometre-small cochlea replicas on which surgeons practise the procedure are manufactured by the LZH’s Photonic System Technology Group using LAM technology.

The Surface Treatment Group at the LZH has taken cochlea implants even further. In collaboration with the Hannover Medical School, they are developing implants that change their shape in response to temperature changes during surgery and will thus make insertion much easier.

LAM also allows for the manufacture of temporary implants. These magnesium scaffolds are decomposed slowly and gradually by the human body. They are well suited for reconstructing defects of the facial skull, as their shape can be matched to the face of the patient. Directly after surgery, the bioresorbable implants stabilise the overlying tissue, and later allow for the growth of new bone cells.

Tiny, highly complex parts, however, are not limited to biomedical technology innovations. There are practically no limits to their application and the materials that can be used to manufacture them, such as polymers or metals. Even complex parts with internal openings can be manufactured rapidly and with high precision using 3-D printing.

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