Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Printable functional 'bionic' ear melds electronics and biology

Date:
May 1, 2013
Source:
Princeton University, Engineering School
Summary:
Scientists used off-the-shelf printing tools to create 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 3-D printing of cells and nanoparticles followed by cell culture to combine a small coil antenna with cartilage, creating what they term a bionic ear.

Scientists used 3-D printing to merge tissue and an antenna capable of receiving radio signals.
Credit: Photo by Frank Wojciechowski

Scientists at Princeton University used off-the-shelf printing tools to create 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."

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.

"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 wrote in the article which appears in the scholarly journal Nano Letters. "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."

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, the researchers said that 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 wrote.

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 up a finished product. Proponents say additive manufacturing promises to revolutionize home industries by allowing small teams or individuals to create work that could previously only be done by factories.

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.

David Gracias, an associate professor at Johns Hopkins and co-author on the publication, said that bridging the divide between biology and electronics represents a formidable challenge that needs to be overcome to enable the creation of smart prostheses and implants.

"Biological structures are soft and squishy, composed mostly of water and organic molecules, while conventional electronic devices are hard and dry, composed mainly of metals, semiconductors and inorganic dielectrics," he said. "The differences in physical and chemical properties between these two material classes could not be any more pronounced."

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. The current system receives radio waves, but he said the research team plans to incorporate other materials, such as pressure-sensitive electronic sensors, to enable the ear to register acoustic sounds.

In addition to McAlpine, Verma, Mannoor and Gracias the research team includes: Winston Soboyejo, a professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at Princeton; Karen Malatesta, a faculty fellow in molecular biology at Princeton; Yong Lin Kong, a graduate student in mechanical and aerospace engineering at Princeton; and Teena James, a graduate student in chemical and biomolecular engineering at Johns Hopkins.

The team also included Ziwen Jiang, a high school student at the Peddie School in Hightstown who participated as part of an outreach program for young researchers in McAlpine's lab.

"Ziwen Jiang is one of the most spectacular high school students I have ever seen," McAlpine said. "We would not have been able to complete this project without him, particularly in his skill at mastering CAD designs of the bionic ears."

Support for the project was provided by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the Air Force Office of Scientific Research, NIH, and the Grand Challenges Program at Princeton University.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Princeton University, Engineering School. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Manu S Mannoor, Ziwen Jiang, Teena James, Yong Lin Kong, Karen A Malatesta, Winston Soboyejo, Naveen Verma, David H Gracias, Michael C. McAlpine. A 3D Printed Bionic Ear. Nano Letters, 2013; 130501101451003 DOI: 10.1021/nl4007744

Cite This Page:

Princeton University, Engineering School. "Printable functional 'bionic' ear melds electronics and biology." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 1 May 2013. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/05/130501193208.htm>.
Princeton University, Engineering School. (2013, May 1). Printable functional 'bionic' ear melds electronics and biology. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 22, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/05/130501193208.htm
Princeton University, Engineering School. "Printable functional 'bionic' ear melds electronics and biology." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/05/130501193208.htm (accessed October 22, 2014).

Share This



More Matter & Energy News

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Chameleon Camouflage to Give Tanks Cloaking Capabilities

Chameleon Camouflage to Give Tanks Cloaking Capabilities

Reuters - Innovations Video Online (Oct. 22, 2014) — Inspired by the way a chameleon changes its colour to disguise itself; scientists in Poland want to replace traditional camouflage paint with thousands of electrochromic plates that will continuously change colour to blend with its surroundings. The first PL-01 concept tank prototype will be tested within a few years, with scientists predicting that a similar technology could even be woven into the fabric of a soldiers' clothing making them virtually invisible to the naked eye. Matthew Stock reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Jet Sales Lift Boeing Profit 18 Pct.

Jet Sales Lift Boeing Profit 18 Pct.

Reuters - Business Video Online (Oct. 22, 2014) — Strong jet demand has pushed Boeing to raise its profit forecast for the third time, but analysts were disappointed by its small cash flow. Fred Katayama reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Internet of Things Aims to Smarten Your Life

Internet of Things Aims to Smarten Your Life

AP (Oct. 22, 2014) — As more and more Bluetooth-enabled devices are reaching consumers, developers are busy connecting them together as part of the Internet of Things. (Oct. 22) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
What Is Magic Leap, And Why Is It Worth $500M?

What Is Magic Leap, And Why Is It Worth $500M?

Newsy (Oct. 22, 2014) — Magic Leap isn't publicizing much more than a description of its product, but it’s been enough for Google and others to invest more than $500M. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
 
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:  

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories

 

Space & Time

Matter & Energy

Computers & Math

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:  

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile iPhone Android Web
Follow Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins