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.
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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.”
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