Scientists use 3D printer to create ‘bionic ear’ that hears better than you
By Stephen C. Webster
Thursday, May 2, 2013 10:53 EDT Scientists at Princeton University announced Wednesday that they have created a “bionic ear” that has abilities beyond the normal human range of hearing.
Using a 3D printer filled with cells and hydrogel, they fashioned a synthetic ear matched to the dimensions of a human’s ear that merges its biological components with a nano-engineered electronic-conducting polymer. That polymer enables an inductive coil antenna to be implanted and cartilage grown around it, creating what amounts to the world’s first “bionic ear,” researchers explained in the journal Nano Letters.
“The design and implementation of bionic organs and devices that enhance human capabilities, known as cybernetics, has been an area of increasing scientific interest,” they wrote. “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.”
While the ear itself isn’t likely to be showing up on the side of anyone’s head, the technique is a major advance for the growing field of 3D printed organs. Future advances could one day lead to a bionic ear that can be controlled by a smartphone or other wearable device, turning the volume up or down or tuning into radio signals at-will.
“In general, there are mechanical and thermal challenges with interfacing electronic materials with biological materials,” lead researcher Michael McAlpine said in an advisory. “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.”
The addition of electronic components to artificially created human organs is likely to be just the beginning of the “bionic” movement, which is still in its infancy but making giant steps every month, aided by new advances in 3D printing.
Scientists at the University of Oxford announced just last month that 3D printers can be used to create a substance similar to human tissues, using lipid bilayers similar to cellular membranes to separate water droplets. They speculated that such tissues could one day be used as graft material to repair injuries, or like a sponge that can trigger the release of medications with a small charge.
Just days before that announcement, a company called Organovo demonstrated a 3D printing method that uses liver cells, wowing an audience gathered for the Experimental Biology 2013 conference in Boston. Organovo’s sister company, Modern Meadow, is aiming to apply the same technology to edible meat and leather.
Webster wrote "Organovo’s sister company, Modern Meadow, is aiming to apply the same technology to edible meat and leather." I was not aware ONVO has a sister company. What is a sister company? I am unaware that ONVO has a subsidiary, so I guess Modern Meadow is largely owned by the same venture capital partners and investors that provided private capital to ONVO before it went public via the shell company. If anyone knows more about the relationship between ONVO and Modern Meadow, please post your input here. Thanks, Less
Organovo Holdings, Inc. (ONVO) a development stage company that is developing the technology to print organs using a culture of a patients own cells. This blog has actually already touched on a little of Organovo's work, the company that is working on 3D printed meat, Modern Meadow's co-founder Gabor Forgacs was also a co-founder of Organovo and a lot of the tech is the same. Scientific Origins
The foundation of scaffold-free bioprinting can be traced to the laboratory of our scientific founder, Professor Gabor Forgacs, at the University of Missouri–Columbia. A biophysicist with expertise in developmental biology, his pioneering observations in the study of wing development in chicks led to a desire to analyze and model the cell-cell interactions of embryology.
Dr. Forgacs and his academic partners demonstrated that mammalian cells could come together and form multicellular aggregates of a controlled shape and size, and that the interactions of these aggregates were governed by many of the same physical principles involved in interactions between drops of liquid. He leveraged this understanding to build the first prototype bioprinter that enabled precise placement of these cellular aggregates—also called bio-ink—to form simple ring and tubular structures that interacted with each other to yield intact tissues.
This was the first demonstration of directed assembly of three-dimensional tissues without dependency on integrated scaffolding or biomaterial components. Dr. Forgacs' unique discoveries were captured in a portfolio of patents and patent applications that are licensed exclusively to Organovo. An experienced team of scientists and engineers at Organovo and its partners have continued to advance 3D bioprinting technology as the NovoGen Bioprinter™ platform. Today, we are actively developing and commercializing 3D human tissues for various research and therapeutic applications.
Modern Meadow is not related to Organovo, legally. The founder of Modern Meadow, Andras Forgac, sits on Organovo's board of directors. He is the son of Dr. Gabor Forgacs, who is the scientist behind Organovo's technology.