Cyborg Central: Researchers Combine Electronics with Synthetic Tissue

By Sophie Bushwick | August 31, 2012 1:13 pm

An electronic scaffold for growing cyborg tissues

To craft synthetic flesh, all you need are seed cells—stem cells or cells from a specific organ—to form the basis of the material and a scaffold of biological material, which supports the cells as they grow into tissue for patching up hearts or artificial organs. But why grow boring old biological materials when you can create cyborg ones? In a new paper published in Nature Materials, researchers describe how to make synthetic tissues that integrate electronics.

Instead of growing cells on a purely biological scaffold, these researchers used nanowires to build electronic scaffolds and then coat them with biological materials like collagen, forming hybrid scaffolds that included both tissue and technology. With these scaffolds as a base, researchers successfully formed viable cyborg tissue from seed cells, including neurons, cardiac, and smooth muscle cells. The tissue remained viable for a few weeks, but the researchers still need to conduct extended studies to see how these tissues would fare as long-term implants.

So far, the researchers have used the electronics embedded in heart tissue to monitor the contractions of each cell, tracking how exposure to a stimulant made the cells beat faster. Instead of testing drugs on animals, scientists may some day be able to observe their effect on cyborg synthetic flesh.

What about putting cyborg implants into our bodies? The researchers tested scaffolds covered in muscle tissue and found that they could track changes in acidity nearby—changes that, in the human body, can signal inflammation or the presence of a tumor. In the future, implanted biomedical devices like these may let doctors diagnose ailments remotely in real time. Or perhaps the electronics could influence tissue as well as monitoring it, stimulating cell growth through machine-body communication.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine, Technology
  • Anthony

    Ray Kurzweil is pleased. Welcome to the future.

  • PeterC

    We should not forget that the cell/molecular mechansim of injury of the ischaemic- reperfused heart remains unsolved. This is kindergarten science, a distraction from real issues.

  • Stuffs

    How exactly is this impeding cardiology research in any way? I like the idea of pacemakers becoming completely integrated.

  • TheRant

    Just because we’ve discovered how to do some amazing things, but haven’t figured out how other enigmatic issues work means the things we doknow are kindergarten science? Not hardly. This is cutting-edge science, especially if they figure out how to implant it with little to no immune rejection.

    Besides, you make it seem like reperfusion injuries are not even remotely understand. It’s really hard to see down to the chemical reactions that occur in the body in real time as they occur. Studying dead tissue after the fact can only glean us so much information. If only they could make tissue facsimiles, somehow. And if maybe those tissues had some kind of electronic monitors that could sense the damage occurring by monitoring levels of different chemicals around the tissues. It could be like a biologic/synthetic tissue hybrid. I wonder when they’ll get started working on that so we might be able to merge the two and solve this issue.

    Suddenly, it’s not “kindergarten” science anymore.

  • PeterC

    The elecrical properties of single myocytes and the whole heart are already known in great detail, and its function depends intimately upon the organisation of the billions of myocytes in 3D. An engineered scaffold denies that from the outset. Its highly unlikely that any new understanding will come from synthetic tissue studies, and physiologists already have devised far better techniques for the studies these engineers propose. To physiologists their biological aims are naive. Its an example of the continuing failure to address interdisciplinarity in science and engineering.

  • FrogTale

    I’m just a regular ignoramus, so sorry to have been born at least a couple of centuries too early …

  • Alex McLin

    PeterC, please provide references for the techniques you say would be better than what the engineers are proposing. I would like to learn more about them.

  • MARK

    Im very greatfull to all of you .The ones that dont know much but create controversy as to the ones that got their knowledge and submit explanations for us to understand better and to the scientist working this issues,may we one day get cure to many so called terminal illnesses.You guys are part of the hope to many of us, part of the light at the end of the tunnel.

  • DavidW_PhD

    PeterC, you could not possibly be more wrong when you say this is a “continuing failure to address interdisciplinarity in science and engineering.” That is neither factually or syntactically correct. Combining electronically active non-biological components with biological components to create hybrid structures with potentially useful functions is by definition interdisciplinary. As for it being a “distraction from real issues,” the same could be said for anything that does not address the major issues facing humanity, which frankly do not include reperfusion injury. Knowing the cellular and molecular mechanisms of reperfusion injury will have little affect on the lives and deaths of most human beings, while millions die every year from infectious diseases and starvation. If you are so concerned about the molecular mechanism of reperfusion injury, work on it yourself, but recognize that most of Earth’s population will likely consider your work “a distraction from real issues.”


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