In a world first, gel triggers electrode creation in living organisms
Bioelectronics is a burgeoning medical field, but it may have just taken a giant leap forward, with scientists successfully growing electrodes in living tissue, paving the way for fully integrated electronic circuits to treat neurological disorders.
Scientists at Linköping, Lund and Gothenburg universities in Sweden have forged electrodes in living tissue using the body’s molecules to trigger them. The researchers are the first to successfully do this without the need for external signals or by modifying genes.
In experiments conducted at Lund University, a gel containing enzymes as “assembly molecules” was injected into zebrafish and medicinal leeches. From this, the scientists observed that electrodes formed in the brain, heart and tail fins of zebrafish and around the nervous tissue of the leeches. The animals were neither harmed by the gel nor adversely affected by the electrodes.
“By making smart changes to the chemistry, we were able to develop electrodes that were accepted by the brain tissue and immune system. The zebrafish is an excellent model for the study of organic electrodes in brains,” explained Roger Olsson, professor at the Medical Faculty, Lund University.
Generally, implanted objects are required to kickstart electrical circuits in the body. Not surprisingly, it took the team several years to develop the gel, which required the right structure and components to be successful in animal cells.
"Contact with the body’s substances changes the structure of the gel and makes it electrically conductive, which it isn’t before injection. Depending on the tissue, we can also adjust the composition of the gel to get the electrical process going," said Xenofon Strakosas, PhD researcher at the Laboratory for Organic Electronics (LOE), Linköping University.
While it might all sound like sci-fi right now, the researchers believe this path of study will see, in the long term, wholly integrated circuits in the human body – something that could change the face of neurological therapies. The team admits there are "a range of problems to solve," but that this study provides a new perspective on bioelectronics.
“For several decades, we have tried to create electronics that mimic biology," said Magnus Berggren, professor at LOE. "Now we let biology create the electronics for us."
The study was published in the journal Science.