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.