According to an article featured in the MIT Technology Review in August 2013, it appears that researchers at Princeton University have claimed that lab-made organs could potentially give people superhuman abilities. This, they say, is where tissue engineering is heading and that 3D printing is what will take us there.
Michael McAlpine at Princeton and other members of his lab said that a 3D printer has been used to build a bionic ear, one that could reportedly detect frequencies a million times higher than what we humans are normally able to hear.
3D printing, according to McAlpine, is a way of bringing biological and electronic material together in a way that is not natural to them and could, as a result, help in the manufacture of such things as cyborg organs and self-monitoring body tissue.
The team of researchers at Princeton began with an ear for its difficulty in shaping with current tissue engineering technology and because an ear is composed of cartilage and therefore doesn’t contain blood vessels, which are at the moment impossible to reproduce.
The ear, with an embedded antenna coil and an external electrode, is printed layer by layer. The material of the ear is formed from bovine cartilage-forming cells suspended in hydrogel while the coil and electrodes are formed from silver nanoparticles, with silicone used to encase the electronics. Once printed, the ear is left in nutrients so that cells can grow, produce collagen and other molecules and form cartilage.
Incredible stuff, that’s for sure. And extra points go to the Princeton team for not grafting the ear onto a mouse.