It was a memorable moment in the movie The Terminator 2: Judgement Day when the cyborg takes a switchblade knife and removes the artificial skin from his hand. Though thought to be only a cool, futuristic effect, this could soon be reality.
Huffington Post reports that scientists at Harvard have created a cyborg-like tissue made of nano-wires that can reach deep into tissues and read electrical signals from cells.
The team, headed by chemistry professor Charles Lieber, has also embedded the nano-wires in bio-engineered blood vessels that can monitor influences on pH levels within the blood. They have used the tissue to build it into a three-dimensional scaffolding that one day they hope can be integrated directly with living tissues.
“With this technology, for the first time, we can work at the same scale as the unit of biological system without interrupting it,” Lieber said.
“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.”
Before the discovery, doctors would encase organs with a flat, flexible device that could only read signals from tissues on the surface. According to the New Scientist, artificial tissue can already be grown and implemented in this way, but this new discovery introduces biological materials that are electrically active within the tissue’s structure.
“The current methods we have for monitoring or interacting with living systems are limited,” Lieber stated in a news release.
The aim for the future is to integrate the nano-wires into prosthetics so that they could communicate directly with the nervous system. The nano-wires could also read signals inside the body and react to injury or illness by releasing drugs or through electrical stimulation.