Terminator Technology Unveiled
These devices not only spy on the electrical impulses given off by each cell, but in future might be used to control cell behaviour, a terrifying glimpse of that sci-fi favourite, the cyborg.
Terminator Technology Unveiled
In what seems very much like the first step toward a real-life terminator robot, Harvard University researchers have ACTUALLY developed rat cardiomyocytes that beat like real heart cells, yet crucially are different in that, snaking through these cells are wires and transistors.
These devices not only spy on the electrical impulses given off by each cell, but in future might be used to control cell behaviour, a terrifying glimpse of that sci-fi favourite, the cyborg. There have already been examples of such cyborg tissues created for muscles, neurons, and blood vessels, which could be used in drug testing, or perhaps as pioneering - more biological - implants such as pacemakers.
Indeed, if it turns out that it is possible to transmit signals to the cells, then cyborg tissue could be used in a variety of ways from artificial - though incredibly life-like limbs, or even miniature robotic productions.
The problem of course is that this development begins the process of blurring the boundary between the organic, biological and electronic, inorganic systems. It is a fact that artificial tissue can already be grown on 3D scaffolds, composed of biological materials not electrically active.
It is also true to say that indeed electrical components have previously been added to cultured tissue without being integrated into the structure, rendering them able to extract only surface information, but the Harvard team combined these earlier projects to create 3D networks of conductive nano-wires studded with silicon sensors.
Of high necessity exceedingly small and very flexible, to avoid impeding the growth of tissue, the minute wires had to thread their way through traditional biological materials such as collagen, which made up the scaffolds. By doing this rat neurons, heart cells and muscle were grown, and the heart cells started to contract - just as normal cells would.
Most exciting for the team was the finding that, when adding a contraction-stimulating drug the heart cell contractions increased, indicating in the rate, indicating that the network was aware and that tissue was behaving normally. They even grew an entire blood vessel -1.5 centimetres long - from human cells, with wires snaking through it.
Using such technology - from a medical point of view - for recording electrical signals from inside and outside blood vessels –could enable the detection of electrical patterns that might suggest impending heart disease or other conditions, or indeed the technology could allow for the creation of tiny, biomimetic robots or implants for repairing damaged tissue - via electronic pulses - at the internal site of the damage.
As yet, electrical scaffolds have only been employed to record signals, but the next logical step is to add components to nano-scaffolds that will enable them to communicate with neurons, in the same way that biological systems do. Thing is, if such technology when perfected finds a way into computer development, who knows when something similar to the dread Skynet might also become self-aware?