In what could be a big leap for medical science, our reliance on robots could soon hit a lot closer to home.
Scientists at Harvard have created a cyborg-like tissue made of nano-wires that can reach deep into tissues and read electrical signals from cells. Headed by chemistry professor Charles Lieber, the team also embedded the nano-wires in bio-engineered blood vessels that can monitor influences on pH levels within the blood. They've used the tissue to build it into three-dimensional scaffolding that one day they hope can be integrated directly with living tissues.
"With this technology, for the first time, we can work at the same scale as the unit of biological system without interrupting it," Lieber told the Harvard Gazette.
"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.”
Prior to this discovery, doctors would encase organs with a flat, flexible device that could only read signals from tissues on the surface. According to the New Scientist, artificial tissue can already be grown and implemented in this way, but this new discovery introduces biological materials that are electrically active within the tissue's structure.
"The current methods we have for monitoring or interacting with living systems are limited," Lieber said in a university news release.
These nano-wires could potentially be integrated into prosthetics so that they could communicate directly with the nervous system. They could also read signals within the body and react to injury or illness by releasing drugs or through electrical stimulation.
"It shows, from a materials perspective, that you can combine these electronic networks with virtually anything," he told Technology Review.