Breakthrough in Artificial Tissue Technology
Friday, August 31, 2012
A US research team have made a significant stride in the development of artificial tissues that may someday be as reactive as skin. The research team used a combination of nano-sized sensing mesh with organic tissue cells to create an artificial organ that can both sense variations in its environment and, maybe one day, react to them.
The scientists fused an array of the nano-webbing with a careful selection of heart and nerve cells.
"The current methods we have for monitoring or interacting with living systems are limited," stated Harvard PhD, Dr. Charles M. Lieber, member of the research team. "We can use electrodes to measure activity in cells or tissue, but that damages them. 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."
Lead Researcher Dr. Danial Kohane, MD, PhD with the Department of Anesthesia at Boston Children’s Hospital, expanded further.
"In the body, the autonomic nervous system keeps track of pH, chemistry, oxygen and other factors, and triggers responses as needed," Kohane said. "We need to be able to mimic the kind of intrinsic feedback loops the body has evolved in order to maintain fine control at the cellular and tissue level. "This technology could turn some basic principles of bioengineering on their head," Kohane added. "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."
It is impossible to miss the enthusiasm of the project leader.
"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," Kohane stated proudly.
The researchers hope their discoveries will lead to better skin replacement prostheses with the possibility of having diagnostic readout ability (a USB port perhaps?) or even a medicine delivery system that sends the correct dose at the right time based on the information received from the engineered tissue.
Robert Langer. ScD of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology also co-authored the report which was published in the on-line peer reviewed journal Nature Materials.