In what’s being hailed as a world first in regenerative medicine, five children have received new ears grown from their own cells.

The children, living in China and ranging from age 6 to 10, were all born with microtia, a birth defect where at least one ear is underdeveloped. Traditional treatments for the condition involve either surgically attaching a synthetic ear or forming an ear from cartilage harvested from the patient’s ribs.

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Surgeons often use metal pieces such as screws and plates to hold broken bones together. Soon, there may be another, better option: ceramic implants created by 3D printers.

Many researchers have touted the medical promise of additive manufacturing, more commonly known as 3D printing. As the technology has become cheaper and more precise, the medical community has embraced it, creating things like prosthetic limbs, tissue with blood vessels, and even biosynthetic ovaries using 3D printing techniques. Now Hala Zreiqat, a professor of biomedical engineering at the University of Sydney in Australia, has shown the capacity for 3D printed implants to heal broken bones by not just holding them together, but encouraging new bone growth.

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This is the first in a series about using technology to overcome the most primal challenges to humanity: disease, aging, and death.

In 2011, Russian multi-billionaire Dmitry Itskov founded the 2045 Initiative, a nonprofit research-supporting organization focused on the goal of “indefinite life extension”-- that is, allowing people to live as long as they choose (barring catastrophic accidents) by finding a way to transfer human minds into completely synthetic bodies.

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