Science

3D-printed "biomimetic tongue" works like the real thing

3D-printed "biomimetic tongue"...
The negative mold from which the biomimetic tongue was made
The negative mold from which the biomimetic tongue was made
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The negative mold from which the biomimetic tongue was made
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The negative mold from which the biomimetic tongue was made
A piece of the biomimetic tongue material, which recreates the anterior dorsal section of the tongue
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A piece of the biomimetic tongue material, which recreates the anterior dorsal section of the tongue

While we have heard about "electronic tongues" recently, most of them have turned out to be flavor-assessing sensors that (disappointingly) didn't look like actual tongues. Such is not the case with a new biomimetic tongue, however, which could have some interesting applications.

To create the device, scientists from the UK's universities of Leeds and Edinburgh started by taking silicone impressions of the tongue surfaces of 15 adult volunteers. Those impressions were then 3D-scanned to map the dimensions and density of hundreds of bud-like structures called papillae.

Although one might think that all papillae are what we know as "taste buds," only some of them actually contain taste receptors. All of them, though, aid in providing the friction and saliva dispersal necessary for manipulating food within the mouth, and ultimately swallowing that food.

Based on the scans, the researchers proceeded to 3D-print a negative mold from which the actual biomimetic tongue was cast. Not only does the resulting device replicate the papilla layout (and thus the roughness) of a typical adult tongue, but the silicone from which it's made exhibits a very tongue-like softness and wetability.

A piece of the biomimetic tongue material, which recreates the anterior dorsal section of the tongue
A piece of the biomimetic tongue material, which recreates the anterior dorsal section of the tongue

It is now hoped that once developed further, the technology could find use in applications such as objectively assessing the "mouth feel" of newly developed foods, detecting counterfeit food products that have different textures than the genuine article, and gauging the effectiveness of treatments for oral conditions such as dry mouth.

"Ultimately, our hope is that the surface we have designed can be important in understanding how the biomechanics of the tongue underpin the fundamentals of human feeding and speech," says Leeds' Prof. Anwesha Sarkar, principal investigator on the study.

The research is described in a paper that was recently published in the journal ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces.

Source: University of Leeds

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