These embedded networks allow nanoscale sensors to measure cell activity in bioengineered tissues
A Boston research team has managed to place networks of nanoscale sensors within artificially-grown tissues without messing with cell activity.
The research team — hailing from Harvard University, Boston Children’s Hospital and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology — has developed a new method for combining bioengineered tissues and artificial networks, which allow the tissues to electrically and chemically sense what is occurring within a tissue.
Daniel Kohane, MD, PhD, from Boston’s Children Hospital, explained that the new method aims to mimic the body’s nervous system, which keeps cellular reactions in check and provokes stimulation in the engineered tissues.
The research team built networks of nanoscale sensors using silicon wires that are 80 nanometers in diameter and porous. They were packed with cells, which were encouraged to grow in 3D cultures.
Heart and nerve cells were used along with biocompatible coatings to engineer the tissues with the embedded networks. The embedded silicon networks didn’t interfere with cell activity, which normally happens when trying to combine electronics and tissue.
The networks allowed the researchers to measure electrical signals produced by cells deep within the tissue. For instance, they bioengineered blood vessels with embedded networks that measured pH inside and outside of the vessels. Also, with the 3D structure, it was much easier to observe cellular activity.
“Thus far, this is the closest we’ve come to incorporating into engineered tissues electronic components near the size of structures of the extracellular matrix that surrounds cells within tissues,” said Kohane. “This technology could turn some basic principles of bioengineering on their head. Most of the time, for instance, your goal is to create scaffolds on which to grow tissues and then have those scaffolds degrade and dissolve away. Here, the scaffold stays, and actually plays an active role.”
These cyborg tissues could be used for drug screening devices like lab-on-a-chip systems.