Princeton University scientists have invented a new medical device that would have Ridley Scott nodding in recognition. By using live cells and metal nanoparticles, the researchers were able to use a 3D printer to create a bionic ear with an integrated coil antenna. The fully-functioning organ receives radio waves, and it could potentially improve upon the human body’s sense of hearing.
In a research paper published in the journal Nano Letters, the team, which was led by Michael McAlpine, detailed how they constructed the bionic ear. Taking advantage of a 3D printer, the scientists deposited layers of materials in with the assistance of a computer simulated model of the human ear. The printer was able to lay down a matrix of hydrogel, calf cells that would eventually turn into cartilage, and silver nanoparticles to form the antenna. The technology allowed the team to seamlessly integrate the circuitry into the tissue itself. The finished organ is composed of a coiled antenna within the ear and two wires leading from the base that can be wound around the cochlea. More research still needs to be done before the device can be used on a human patient, but it could potentially be attached to nerve endings to restore or enhance hearing. The prototype currently uses radio signals, but the team plans to incorporate other materials such as pressure-sensitive electronic sensors to capture sound.
“The design and implementation of bionic organs and devices that enhance human capabilities, known as cybernetics has been an area of increasing scientific interest,” the researchers noted in their paper. “This field has the potential to generate customized replacement parts for the human body, or even create organs containing capabilities beyond what human biology ordinarily provides.”
Joining research that has already made bionic eyes andlimbs a reality, our senses are just another aspect of our lives ready to take that next leap into the future.