“We have the capability to build the world’s first bionic man. Steve Austin will be that man. Better than he was before. Better, stronger, faster.”
When The Six Million Dollar man aired in 1973, the technology needed to combine biology with machinery was far out of our reach. Now, it is right around the corner!
How would you like to be the first one to have a bionic body part? Wouldn’t it be great to have capabilities beyond any normal human?
While we don’t quite have the technology to build a whole human being, scientists are now able to create a human ear using a 3-D printer and sheep cartilage.
The bionic ear is capable of detecting sounds about one million times higher than the average human ear. This may sound pretty cool, but at the same rate it may get slightly annoying when you can hear the same whistles used to train dogs!
To create the ear, a scientist creates a collagen based mold and a coiled antenna made of nanoparticles. They then add a layer of living cells on top of the mold and wait. In about three months the living cells replace the collagen, growing around the coil. This coil’s purpose is to replicate the structure of a human inner ear; it would attach to nerve endings similar to the way hearing aids do.
Although it is now possible to create an ear, it is not yet possible to attach it on someone who has lost an ear. This is because it neither contains blood vessels nor does it have nerves which would allow the ear to have feeling.
In addition to a 3-D printed ear, scientists have been able to print the cartilage that cushions the knee and a trachea as well. In 2012, a 3-D printed trachea was inserted into an infant with a birth defect which saved his life.
It is more difficult to produce other organs because stem cells are required to create blood vessels. However, scientists are now using a product called Bio Ink to create veins, bringing us one step closer to being able to create healthy organs using a printer.
In the future, we may eliminate many of the setbacks to performing organ transplants. Because the organ would be made using a body’s own cells, the risk of that body rejecting the organ would be greatly reduced. This would also eliminate the problem of organs being in short supply and the risk of receiving a diseased organ.
3-D organs may be available for human trials in as little as seven years, meaning that there is a good chance that they will be commonplace in your lifetime!
If you have any questions or comments on this topic or would like to request a topic for our next article feel free to email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or come by a TriBeta meeting! They are held at 5:00pm on Mondays in the STEM center on the third floor of Porter Hall.
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