Printable, Functional ‘Bionic’ Ear Melds Electronics and Biology Scientists at Princeton University used off-the-shelf printing tools and a hydrogel matrix to create a functional ear that can “hear” radio frequencies far beyond the range of normal human capability. They describe how they created this “bionic” ear in the May 1 issue of Nano Letters. Researchers, led by Michael ... Research in Brief
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Research in Brief  |   September 01, 2014
Printable, Functional ‘Bionic’ Ear Melds Electronics and Biology
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Hearing & Speech Perception / Hearing Aids, Cochlear Implants & Assistive Technology / Research Issues, Methods & Evidence-Based Practice / Research in Brief
Research in Brief   |   September 01, 2014
Printable, Functional ‘Bionic’ Ear Melds Electronics and Biology
The ASHA Leader, September 2014, Vol. 19, 16. doi:10.1044/leader.RIB1.19092014.16
The ASHA Leader, September 2014, Vol. 19, 16. doi:10.1044/leader.RIB1.19092014.16
Scientists at Princeton University used off-the-shelf printing tools and a hydrogel matrix to create a functional ear that can “hear” radio frequencies far beyond the range of normal human capability. They describe how they created this “bionic” ear in the May 1 issue of Nano Letters.
Researchers, led by Michael C. McAlpine, wanted to explore an efficient and versatile means to merge electronics with tissue, so they printed a 3D lattice of cells and nanoparticles combined with a small coil antenna. They then used a cell culture to grow cartilage on the lattice and create an artificial ear.
Further work and extensive testing are needed before the technology could be used on a patient. In principle, the ear could be used to restore or enhance human hearing, by connecting the electrical signals the ear produces to a patient’s nerve endings—similar to a hearing aid.
This project is the team’s first effort to create a fully functional organ: one that not only replicates a human ability, but extends it using embedded electronics. Standard tissue engineering involves seeding types of cells—such as those that form ear cartilage—onto a scaffold of a polymer material called a hydrogel. However, this technique has problems replicating complicated three-dimensional biological structures. Ear reconstruction “remains one of the most difficult problems in the field of plastic and reconstructive surgery,” they write.
To solve the problem, the team turned to a manufacturing approach called 3D printing. These printers use computer-assisted design to conceive of objects as arrays of thin slices. The printer then deposits layers of a variety of materials—ranging from plastic to cells—to build a finished product.
The technique allowed the researchers to combine antenna electronics with tissue within the highly complex topology of a human ear. They used an ordinary 3D printer to combine a matrix of hydrogel and calf cells with silver nanoparticles that form an antenna. The calf cells later develop into cartilage. 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,” which can connect to electrodes.
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September 2014
Volume 19, Issue 9