A Harvard research team has created a method which successfully combines functional electronics and living biological structures.
A team of researchers at Harvard University have developed a breakthrough process of engineering ‘cyborg’ tissue by building ‘scaffolds’ of nanoscale wires which were then seeded with heart and nerve cells.
A longstanding problem in the field of bioengineering has been that available methods for measuring chemical and electrical changes in lab-grown tissues also tend to fatally damage the cells. Charles M. Lieber, the Mark Hyman, Jr. Professor of Chemistry at Harvard, explained these concerns in a recent interview:
The current methods we have for monitoring or interacting with living systems are limited. We can use electrodes to measure activity in cells or tissue, but that damages them. With this technology, for the first time, we can work at the same scale as the unit of biological system without interrupting it. Ultimately, this is about merging tissue with electronics in a way that it becomes difficult to determine where the tissue ends and the electronics begin.
The immediate benefit to arise from this discovery will be that scientists and pharmaceutical companies will now have a method of testing drug responses within a three-dimensional formation of tissues. Hopefully this will one day translate into medicines and procedures that are more effective within a real human body.
What is truly amazing of a technology in which a flexible and porous system of electronics is able to function within living tissue is the simple fact that it is possible at all. This means that synthetic and biological networks can coexist, can interact, and can effectively merge into a single interconnected system of electrical pathways.
For now the focus will be on drug testing, but the future might bring advanced prosthetics, self-monitoring skin-grafts, and, of course, a mind-twisting number of Science Fiction inspired oddities.
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