In truly groundbreaking research, a team of biological engineers has figured out a way to grow electronic sensors inside of living tissue, paving the way for a whole new era in bio-monitoring. The team has published a paper in the science journal Nature Materials, describing their work. The team also spoke with MIT News regarding their efforts and said they believe their sensor technology may one day be used to create new therapies based on implanted bio-sensors. RedOrbit says the new development could eventually lead to engineered hearts and other organs.
Bio-Sensors are man-made electronics based devices that are connected in some way to a living being, such as a person, and then reports back things that it can measure. One example would be automatic glucose monitors some diabetics wear, another would a heart pacemaker. Such devices work by embedding electrodes in the body and sending back readings. The new sensors the MIT team has created, on the other hand, are grown, organically so to speak, within tissue itself, resulting in a mesh of flesh and technology that allows for measuring biologic processes in a living being in ways that have never been seen before.
To create their sensors, the team explains, they used something called nanowires, which are electrically conductive materials that serve the same purpose as wires in electronic components. Instead of metal wires, which would corrode in tissue, the team used a form of silicon to create tiny wires that are just atoms thick, so small they cannot be seen by the naked eye. Then to get the nanowires to mesh with living tissue, they built a very tiny scaffolding to hang the wires on and to guide the growth of new tissue. As the tissue grew, the wires became enmeshed, creating the first sensors that are in essence an actual part of live tissue.
Such a sensor could measure muscle activity, for example, the normal kind, or the kind in the heart. In so doing they could report back not just on when the heart beats, but how well the heart muscle is using oxygen, how strong the beating is and whether there are any blockages, all automatically via a wireless device embedded in the skin that would send all the information to a smartphone or other device that would track the numbers and send out alerts if anything wrong is detected. If everyone were to have such a device, heart attacks would very likely become a thing of the past.
The team says that much more testing still needs to be done, and other techniques developed for embedding the devices in other kinds of tissue before they could put in human beings, but their research at this point, shows that it’s all possible.