Harvard scientists created ‘cyborg’ skin from neurons, heart cells, and nano-electronic wiring.
Wiring allows scientists to detect and respond to pH changes on the tissue’s surface, the same as human skin. It like it’s something out of a science-fiction movie – genius scientists engineer a synthetic skin that’s part living, part electronics.
But scientists at Harvard University have done just that, creating meshes of electronic and biological tissue. The end result is cyborg tissue, which is created from electrodes and wires combined on a Nano-scale.
The results, published in Nature Materials, detail how scientists in the lab embedded electrical nanowires into the lab-grown flesh.
Dr Charles Lieber, who is a chemistry professor at Harvard and the leader of the research team, told the Harvard Gazette: ‘With this technology, for the first time, we can work at the same scale as the unit of biological system without interrupting it.
‘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.’
The Gazette notes that the researches initially worried about how the ‘skin,’ once implanted, would sense and react to chemical and electrical changes.
Normal human skin is capable of sensing oxygen, pH, and other elements in the air, and reacts to each one accordingly. The challenge, then, was engineering skin that would do the same.
First, a 3D mesh of organic polymer is laid out with nanoscale wires within. According to Nature Materials, the wires serve as ‘critical sensing elements.’
Then, they worked in human neurons, heart cells, and blood vessels.
When the substrate was dissolved, researchers had mesh they could contour into the shapes they needed.
Because of the embedded wiring, scientists were able to obtain accurate readings of pH.
Human cyborgs have been imagined in Hollywood for decades, famously in the Star Trek and Terminator franchises.
In both, the cyborg characters have decidedly human appearances, though below the epidermis still lurks a robotic core of metal. However, the Harvard scientists are not looking to such lofty ends.
Dr Lieber told the Gazette said their invention could greatly benefit the pharmaceutical industry, which could test its drugs on the cyborg skin instead of few layers of cultured cells.
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