August 28, 2012
They beat like real heart cells, but the rat cardiomyocytes in a dish at Harvard University are different in one crucial way. Snaking through them are wires and transistors that spy on each cell’s electrical impulses. In future, the wires might control their behaviour too.
Versions of this souped-up, “cyborg” tissue have been created for neurons, muscle and blood vessels. They could be used to test drugsMovie Camera or as the basis for biological versions of existing implants such as pacemakers. If signals can also be sent to the cells, cyborg tissue could be used in prosthetics or to create tiny robots.
“It allows one to effectively blur the boundary between electronic, inorganic systems and organic, biological ones,” says Charles Lieber, who leads the team behind the cyborg tissue.