3D printed `bionic` ear can hear radio frequencies
Washington: Using off-the-shelf printing tools, scientists at Princeton University have created a functional ear that can "hear" radio frequencies far beyond the range of normal human capability.
The researchers` primary purpose was to explore an efficient and versatile means to merge electronics with tissue. The scientists used 3D printing of cells and nanoparticles followed by cell culture to combine a small coil antenna with cartilage, creating what they term a bionic ear.
"In general, there are mechanical and thermal challenges with interfacing electronic materials with biological materials," said Michael McAlpine, an assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at Princeton and the lead researcher.
"Previously, researchers have suggested some strategies to tailor the electronics so that this merger is less awkward. That typically happens between a 2D sheet of electronics and a surface of the tissue. However, our work suggests a new approach-to build and grow the biology up with the electronics synergistically and in a 3D interwoven format," he explained.
McAlpine`s team has made several advances in recent years involving the use of small-scale medical sensors and antenna. Last year, a research effort led by McAlpine and Naveen Verma, an assistant professor of electrical engineering, and Fio Omenetto of Tufts University, resulted in the development of a "tattoo" made up of a biological sensor and antenna that can be affixed to the surface of a tooth.
This project, however, 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
Creating organs using 3D printers is a recent advance; several groups have reported using the technology for this purpose in the past few months. But this is the first time that researchers have demonstrated that 3D printing is a convenient strategy to interweave tissue with electronics.
The technique allowed the researchers to combine the antenna electronics with tissue within the highly complex topology of a human ear. The researchers 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.
Manu Mannoor, a graduate student in McAlpine`s lab and the paper`s lead author, said that additive manufacturing opens new ways to think about the integration of electronics with biological tissue and makes possible the creation of true bionic organs in form and function.
He said that it may be possible to integrate sensors into a variety of biological tissues, for example, to monitor stress on a patient`s knee meniscus.
The researchers described their work in an article, which appeared in the scholarly journal Nano Letters.
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