Science, Science and Tech

Prosthetic ear printed with living tissue

Researchers in America have managed to print a prosthetic ear ingrained with living tissue, and an integrated radio receiver.

ear-opt

Photo: 365sketch.com

The technology of replacement body parts continues to advance in leaps and bounds, and now there is a new entry to the artificial anatomy itinerary: bionic ears. Collaborators from John Hopkins and Princeton Universities in America have designed a very unique design for prosthetic ears.

The idea of sculpting and growing replacement ears is not a new idea. From the infamous Vacanti mouse with shaped cartilage growing on its back, to other methods plastic surgery, creating a replacement or false ear is relatively easy to do. What earmarks this new development as a particular interest is that it comes with a built in receiver capable of picking up microwave transmissions.

The technique for building the ear was relatively simple. Using a pre-existing template from a public website, the developers made slight alterations to include the radio antenna. The ear was then printed as a whole, technology and framework at once. Once completed, the artificial scaffold was planted with cartilage cells and bathed in nutrients, which took and grew to greater strength than the original structure.

While this took planning, the real cleverness is in the incorporated receiver. The polymer gels used to print the ear typically react poorly to radio frequencies, but by using silicon mixed with nano-particles of silver in the gel mix, they were able to achieve acute sensitivity to frequencies outside of human detection, meaning they are capable of listening to signals such as those received by TV, radio or Wi-Fi. Although the ear as printed lacks any sort of apparatus to convert sound waves into electrical signals, by linking the ear up to a stereo port of a computer, the development team showed the ears were able to pick up sound, in this case the Fleur Elise.

Since this was an early version of the concept, only the cartilage layer has been grown onto the ear, without blood vessels, nerves or skin, giving the ears a slightly gory look. But if properly attached and coated, such technology might mean you could tune into the football results more easily than ever.

11/09/2013

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dominicburchnall



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