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.
In the future, science fiction predicts, implanted chips and screens will turn humans into cyborgs. But for a growing group of technophiles, the future is now.
There’s colorblind “first cyborg” Neil Harbisson, whose head-mounted Eyeborg camera translates colors into vibrations, and professor Steve Mann, whose computerized EyeTap glasses are attached to his skull. And then there are the transhumanists who go under the knife at home or in piercing parlors to implant homemade electronic devices, such as magnets that provide the sixth sense of detecting electromagnetic fields.
Reporter Ben Popper delved into the world of DIY cyborgs for an article at The Verge, even receiving his own magnetic implant: