FutureHear is part of a partnership between QUT and Hear and Say, a charity providing hearing, listening and speaking solutions for children, to develop next-generation 3D printed prosthetic ears.
The prosthetic ears are the first step in a program that will eventually create real tissue and bionic ears as well, and the team is turning to crowdfunding to finance the project.
Associate Professor Mia Woodruff, from QUT's Institute of Health and Biomedical Innovation, said crowdfunding for FutureHear gives everyone a chance to support world-first medical research to help children with microtia have a normal life.
"No one in the world is researching 3D printing of life-like materials to create external ears," Professor Woodruff said. "Crowdfunding is common nowadays for start-ups and arts projects but it is not the usual route to gaining financial support for biomedical research".
Th aim is to raise $200,000 over 48 days to fund vital development of 3D printing technology for multi-material, flexible, lifelike prosthetic ears customised for each child with microtia.
Children with microtia often have one unaffected ear and the researchers are developing a simple, non-invasive, child-friendly technology that will enable them to scan the ear with a mobile phone and produce a 3D computer model.
Professor Woodruff said a further research goal was to produce technology to enable prosthetic ears to be 3D printed as cheaply as the cost of a pair of glasses. Until now, parents have had to have hand-sculpted prosthetic ears made at a high cost — that are replaced every three to five years.
Dr Dimity Dornan AO, Hear and Say's Founder and Executive Director, said the research collaboration was a step towards the ultimate goal of the FutureHear project which was to develop a living ear with in-built hearing assistance technology.
"The next step for Professor Woodruff and her team is to produce a surgically implanted 3D printed ear scaffold containing the child's own cells that will gradually dissolve and leave only new tissue," Dr Dornan said. "The real winners in this project is the children affected by microtia and their families who are seeking a cost effective and more accessible solution."
$4,685 of the $200,000 needed has been raised so far. You can check out the project on Pozible.