Scientists at Princeton University have developed a radical new hearing aid, or 'bionic ear', that can detect frequencies far beyond anything the normal ear can receive.
In a new scheme which was seen combining tissue with electronics, the researchers used computer-assisted design (CAD) to adopt an additive manufacturing process which saw thin 3-D slides designed. These slices then were put together to form the final 3-D product, which was then deposited by the printer using plastic and cell materials.
The ear itself has a coiled antenna in its cartilage, with two wires winding around a cochlea and then connected to electrodes or to the patient's nerve endings, just like how normal hearing aids may function.
According to Saga, Michael McAlpine, assistant professor of mechanical engineering at Princeton and lead researcher on the project, said: “In general, there are mechanical and thermal challenges with interfacing electronic material with biological materials.
"Previously, researchers have suggested some strategies to tailor the electronics so that this merger is less awkward. That typically happens between a 2-D 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 3-D interwoven format.”
The ear at the moment only receives radio waves, but scientists hope to extend this onto acoustic noises through adopting pressure-sensitive sensors.
By maintaining this balance between electronics and biology, researchers are looking into the development of other implants. Other 'bionic' projects across the globe include Rex, the bionic man, who is on display at the Science Museum in London. Rex has artificial limbs, circulatory system, and a bionic kidney, spleen and pancreas.
Further research into this 'bionic ear' is set to occur over the next few years.