The day when all body parts can easily be replaced with engineered parts may be just around the corner. You may have missed it, but last summer researchers at the University of Minnesota took big strides towards creating the first bionic eye that could help the blind and enhance vision for others. The team was able to 3-D print light receptors onto a hemispherical surface, publishing the findings with the peer-reviewed scientific journal Advanced Materials, which covers research in the field of material science.
According to Michael McAlpine, a co-author of the study and University of Minnesota Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering : "Bionic eyes are usually thought of as science fiction, but now we are closer than ever using a multi-material 3-D printer." The desire to create a bionic eye was a personal one for McAlpine since his mother is blind in one eye.
McAlpine and his team first gained attention a few years ago when they printed a "bionic ear." Since then, they have been known for their ability to integrate 3-D printing, electronics, and biology onto a single platform. When trying to make the bionic eye, the main challenge was that 3D printing on a curved surface was previously impossible as the inks would run down the curved surface. By using a base ink of silver particles, the ink dried uniformly and most importantly stayed in place. Semiconducting polymer materials were used to print photodiodes, which convert light into electricity and form the structure of the bionic eye. The entire process requires about an hour.
To bring the bionic eye to market, more research needs to be done. They hope to create light receptors that are more efficient, and still need to find a material that is biologically capable of resting in a human eye socket that is also printable.