07th September 2012

Cardiff Uni, DTR Medical and a prominent surgeon use F1 technology to repair damaged eardrums

Cardiff University scientists have discovered that design technology used in Formula 1 racing can be used to treat damaged eardrums.

Three patients in the UK have successfully regained their hearing after undergoing the new procedure which uses a tiny graft of flesh taken from behind the ear to create an exact replica of the eardrum.

Although the operation has been done since the Seventies, surgeons have struggled to make the new eardrum mimic the shape of the real thing.

Consultant ENT surgeon John Phillips from Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital sent plaster-of-Paris casts of the moulds used in Canada to Swansea-based medical instrument manufacturers DTR Medical.

They worked with engineers at Cardiff University’s manufacturing engineering centre, using state-of-the-art design technology employed in F1 racing to make light, aerodynamic and individualised components for cars.

The technology is known as laser sintering: computer-scanning the casts in 3D, then building them in paper-fine layers of stainless steel to create a solid mould.

During the two-hour implantation operation, carried out under general anaesthetic, a thin disc of fibrous tissue is taken from beneath the skin behind the ear and pressed on to the eardrum mould.

This is then dipped into formaldehyde to fix its shape. A small hole is made at the base.

The surgeon then removes the old eardrum and inserts the new one, hooking the hole on to the first bone of hearing, which runs from the centre of the eardrum to the roof of the ear canal.

This makes the entire unit vibrate, which improves hearing.

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