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Researchers Create Bioengineered Sensing Networks

A convergence of electronics and biology has led to the creation of a cyborg tissue by Harvard scientists using embedded nanoelectronics.

The engineered tissue is a combination of human tissues and a three dimensional network of nanoscale wires that are biocompatible. The development addresses a long-standing issue in tissue bioengineering wherein it has been difficult to develop systems that can monitor the implanted tissue through its growth period by sensing electrical and chemical changes. The new system enables the seamless merging of tissue and a system to interact and monitor the tissues.

The concept of cyborg tissue derives inspiration from the body’s autonomic nervous system that triggers appropriate responses on need basis while monitoring the oxygen, chemistry, pH balance and other vital statistics in the body. The researchers at Harvard knew that any electronic monitoring system should be able to duplicate the intrinsic feedback mechanism of the human body to remain in balance at the minute level of cells and tissues.

The Harvard researchers built meshes of silicon nanowires shaped like flat planes and measuring 30 to 80 nm in diameter by using microchip etching technique. The sensing elements were organic polymers laid as a mesh around silicon nanowires on a two-dimensional substrate. Nanoscale electrodes for measuring cell activity without damaging the cells were incorporated within the mesh. The substrate was dissolved to obtain a nanoscale mesh that could be molded into desired three-dimensional shapes. The mesh was porous enough to enable cells to be seeded within. This effort successfully engineers three-dimensional tissue growth with monitoring capability as opposed to previous efforts on two dimensional systems.

The team used nerve and heart cells for their study and found that their novel three-dimensional nanoscale systems helped them measure response signals corresponding to neuro and cardio stimulating drugs.


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