Doctors successfully transplanted a 3D-printed ear made of human cells to a woman born with a rare ear deformity – microtia, reported the regenerative medicine company 3DBio Therapeutics. The transplant was part of the first clinical trial of the technology, and its success marks a major step forward for tissue engineering.

Microtia is a fairly common condition in which one or both ears are underdeveloped or completely absent. 3DBio Therapeutics is undergoing clinical trials with 11 participants testing the AuriNovo ear, a personalized tissue implant to replace a missing ear in these patients.

As a rule, for patients with microtia, the ear is made of rib transplants or synthetic materials. Instead, 3DBio Therapeutics’ experimental approach involves taking a biopsy from the patient’s existing ear and extracting cartilage cells. Then they are grown and printed on a special 3D printer in the shape of the patient’s ear. Such an implant continues to repair cartilage throughout a person’s lifetime, and because it is made from their own cells, it is less likely to be rejected.

This has been a significant year for progress in transplant technology. In January, doctors transplanted a pig’s heart into a human patient, but he died a few months later. Other research groups are working on lungs and blood vessels printed by 3D printing. The leading specialists of 3DBio Therapeutics told The New York Times, that their technology could potentially print other parts of the body, such as the nose and rotator cuffs, and ultimately complex organs such as the liver and kidneys.