Scientists at Princeton have developed and built a functional bionic ear with a 3D printer, successfully integrating biology with technology and bringing us one step closer to a world where producing replacement parts for the human body might be just a click away.
The team used off-the-shelf 3D printing technology to construct the cyborg ear with its integrated coil antenna, and used silver nanoparticles, hydrogel, and cultured calf cells to build it layer by layer. The hydrogel forms the matrix for the construction, the calf cells become the cartilage, and the silver nanoparticles form the antenna of the device.
The new ear can only detect radio frequencies at the moment, so it might be a while before we're seeing the next generation of cyberkids with bionic ears, but this advancement shows the potential for meshing electronics and biological systems.
"The finished ear consists of a coiled antenna inside a cartilage structure. Two wires lead from the base of the ear and wind around a helical "cochlea" – the part of the ear that senses sound – which can connect to electrodes. Although McAlpine cautions that further work and extensive testing would need to be done before the technology could be used on a patient, he said the ear in principle could be used to restore or enhance human hearing. He said electrical signals produced by the ear could be connected to a patient's nerve endings, similar to a hearing aid." - Princeton