Terminator may actually be coming to
a theatre near you real life! Well not quite, but perhaps the idea of an Arnie-type android walking around with human flesh isn’t as far off as you might think. For the first time, Harvard Scientists have managed to create a 3D Hybrid of living tissue and electronics. They have integrated neurons, muscle cells and blood vessels with nanowires and transistors, essentially creating cyborg tissue!
Although you may be wondering about their ultimate motivations (cyborg uprising?), this marks a significant milestone along the road to creating technology that can integrate with your body. Before the discovery, doctors were only able to read signals of surface tissue from a flat flexible device encased in organs – a considerable hindrance. According to the New Scientist, the introduction of cyborg tissue now allows researchers to read signals within the cell from electronically active biological materials. Furthermore, Harvard Scientists have managed to integrate nano wires within blood vessels to reliably monitor influences on pH levels within the blood. Team leader Charles Liber, a professor of chemistry at Harvard University, explained his reasons for manufacturing cyborg tissue to the Harvard Gazette:
“The current methods we have for monitoring or interacting with living systems are limited. 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.”
Prof Lieber further commented that a short-term outlook would be to utilise cyborg tissue for monitoring activities such as drug therapy or to monitor ongoing conditions. For example, testing drugs on cyborg skin instead of a few layers of cultured cells could provide more meaningful results.
The electronics in the cyborg tissue cannot be manipulated to control the cells at this point in time, but the future is looking optimistic for researchers. The cyborg tissue has been used to produce a three-dimensional scaffolding that eventually could be integrated directly with living tissues such as prosthetic limbs, which would then be able to communicate with the nervous system. For example, this technology would be able to review signals within the body and provide adequate responses to injury or illness by release of a drug or through electrical stimulation.
Thankfully, there is no mention of the warfare potential for this technology, though knowing the many billions of dollars that gets allocated to military research spending each your, it’s surely only a matter of time until we see soldiers outfitted with such technology. If and when true Artificial Intelligence emerges and gets combined with this cyborg tissue technology, it may indeed be time for me to quite my day job in IT support and start building that underground bunker!
If you would like to read more about this scientific breakthrough, the Harvard Scientists findings are published in the August 26 issue of the journal Nature Materials.