Bioengineers at Harvard University have created the first examples of cyborg tissue: Neurons, heart cells, muscle, and blood vessels that are interwoven by nanowires and transistors.
These cyborg tissues are half living cells, half electronics. As far as the cells are concerned, they’re just normal cells that behave normally — but the electronic side actually acts as a sensor network, allowing a computer to interface directly with the cells. In the case of cyborg heart tissue, the researchers have already used the embedded nanowires to measure the contractions (heart rate) of the cells.
To create cyborg flesh, you start with a three-dimensional scaffold that encourages cells to grow around them. These scaffolds are generally made of collagen, which makes up the connective tissue in almost every animal. The Harvard engineers basically took normal collagen, and wove nanowires and transistors into the matrix to create nanoelectric scaffolds (nanoES). The neurons, heart cells, muscle, and blood vessels were then grown as normal, creating cyborg tissue with a built-in sensor network.
Cardiac cells, with a nanoelectroic electrode highlighted
So far the Havard team has mostly grown rat tissues, but they have also succeeded in growing a 1.5-centimeter (0.6in) cyborg human blood vessel. They’ve also only used the nanoelectric scaffolds to read data from the cells — but according to lead researcher Charles Lieber, the next step is to find a way of talking to the individual cells, to “wire up tissue and communicate with it in the same way a biological system does.”
A computer chip, containing a sample of nanoES tissue
Suffice it to say, if you can use a digital computer to read and write data to your body’s cells, there are some awesome applications. If you need a quick jolt of adrenaline, you would simply tap a button on your smartphone, which is directly connected to your sympathetic nervous system. You could augment your existing physiology with patches — a patch of nanoelectric heart cells, for example, that integrates with your heart and reports back if you experience any problems. When we eventually put nanobots into our bloodstream, small pulses of electricity emitted by the cells could be used as guidance to damaged areas. In the case of blood vessels and other organs, the nanoelectric sensor network could detect if there’s inflammation, blockage, or tumors.
You can’t look at internet news lately without seeing the latest and greatest in nanotechnology developments. Everything these days is being manufactured smaller, faster, more durable, and under more and more human control with the help of science. Nanotechnology is a giant rising star in business, already cresting $225 billion dollars in product sales as of 2009 with exponential growth continuing. It’s the cure-all, the golden egg, or the philosopher’s stone, if you will, of the modern world of science. As such, every other industry wants a piece of this new revenue pie and is developing nanotech faster than we can think about it.
What’s not understood, however, is the effects that nanomaterial will have on humans and the environment. More than anything else, that’s a cause for concern that everyone should pause and take note of.
Chances are you have been using products that contain nanomaterials for a couple years now, from clothing to cosmetics to even paint. Building objects from the atomic level adds a layer of customization and refinement that we’re not able to find in nature, not to mention many substances are shown to have abnormal and useful qualities when shaped in such a form, like self-cleaning t-shirts and plaque-fighting silver in toothpaste.
But nanomaterial’s strength in its size is also its weakness. They can be easily ingested or absorbed through the skin and can bleed into the environment at any point between manufacturing and use. This behavior and its effects are not entirely understood by science at this point, and the gap is only going to get wider as more and more industries delve into nanotech to enhance and build their products.
Lack of funds for research that evaluates risk is the main culprit of this, as well as the fact that companies that are tasked with researching that risk are also the companies whose livelihoods depend upon promotion of nanotechnology, creating a hand in the cookie jar scenario that we’ve all seen before.
An advisory panel of the National Academy of Sciences is calling for a four-part research push in the the areas of identifying sources of nanomaterial releases, processes that affect exposure and hazards, nanomaterial interactions at subcellular to ecosystem-wide levels, and ways to accelerate research progress.
To ask for such a wide array of topics to be diligently looked into should be some cause for alarm to any consumer, because the assumption then is that there is no hard data on these topics at all. According to Nano.gov, over 800 everyday commercial products already rely on nanomaterials, from baseball bats to anti-wrinkle clothing to sunscreen and — get this — nanocomposites in food containers.
It’s probably safe to say that we’re ingesting these products already, and science has no clear indication if that’s a bad thing or not.
It gets worse, as well. Future applications of nanomaterials include purifying drinking water and the very air we breathe, among other things. Is this a situation where the cure is worse than the malady? How do we know?
Engineers at Stanford have finally managed to create a wirelessly powered and controlled device that’s small enough to travel through your bloodstream. Future versions will carry sensors and drug delivery systems, for the ultimate in pin-point accurate medicine.
The breakthrough, made by Ada Poon, is depressingly simple. Basically, for some 50 years, it has always been believed that human flesh, muscle, and bone absorb high-frequency radio waves. Low-frequency waves penetrate well, but to power a device using low-frequency waves (using induction) you need a very long antenna — something on the order of a few centimeters, which is obviously too large. Poon, who is obviously an outside-the-box thinker, decided to re-do the math — and what do you know: high-frequency radiation around 1GHz actually penetrates the human body very well. As a result, Poon’s wireless device can use an antenna that’s only two millimeters square — small enough to visit almost any portion of our vasculature.
The end result is a minute device not unlike the vessel in Innerspace that’s capable of traveling 0.5cm per second. It is controlled using a wireless transmitter, which would presumably be held by a surgeon or a nurse. In the future, you might be able to use some kind of walk-in machine where a computer/robot controls the device. The next step for Ada Poon and her team at Stanford will be to attach sensors or a drug delivery system. Before we know it, Poon’s device could be whizzing around your blood vessels looking for build-ups of arterial plaque, signs of blood clots, and targeting cancerous tumors with drugs.
With the continued miniaturization of computer chips, there has been a lot of progress in this area recently. Just last week MIT unveiled a wirelessly controlled chip that sits under your skin and delivers drugs. The idea is that these chips might one day contain a whole “pharmacy” of drugs, and that doctors could control them from a distance using telemedicine. Last year we wrote about self-assembling nanobots that could one day ferry drugs around your body.
Dr Zhong Lin Wang holds fibers containing nanogenerators. Woven into clothing, these fibers could power devices using energy from our daily movements. Image courtesy of Gary Meek.
SiNeh~, Sure a bliss for those that are in favor to trans-humanism. IF those devices would be used for something good, I wouldn't have something against it.
By Kevin Boehm – Yale Scientific Magazine – May 11, 2013
Energy exists all around us — in the motion of a heartbeat, the fluorescent light in an office building, and even the flow of blood cells through the body. These individual units of energy are relatively small, but they are numerous.
Dr. Zhong Lin Wang, Professor of Materials Science and Engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology, has developed a way to harness this ambient energy.
After months of work, Wang and his team have developed the very first hybrid cell, which is capable of harnessing both motion and sunlight. By tapping into multiple sources of readily available energy, the tiny cells have the potential to revolutionize the way we power our devices.
All of our electronic devices, from medical sensors to calculators, require a constant supply of energy. Currently, the most common methods are a plug and power supply or batteries, both of which are large and thus limit miniaturization.
Since Wang’s cell is small enough to work on the nanoscale, it can readily be incorporated into biomedical sensors, cellphones, and other small electronics. The cell’s hybrid design is an advantage as well: Solar energy alone produces high voltages but is unsuitable for devices used in the dark, while energy from ambient motion is more consistent but is available on a smaller scale. By combining these sources, Wang’s device can provide a highly reliable supply of electricity.
Wang developed the motion-harnessing component of the hybrid cell in 2006. These devices, called nanogenerators, can collect energy at the micro- and nanoscales of motion by relying on piezoelectricity, the production of a current from compression or strain.
To construct a nanogenerator, Wang grew a vertical array of microscopic zinc oxide (ZnO) wires on a flat base. On top of this, he placed an electrode with multiple pointed peaks that give it a “zig-zag” appearance. When the ZnO nanowires are bent out of their ordered formation, they generate small electric charges due to piezoelectricity. They then touch the zig-zag edge of the electrode, which collects all the electricity to produce a current. Due to its sensitivity, a nanogenerator can capture even vibrations of very small magnitudes, which can then be harnessed to power an object such as a pacemaker. In fact, nearly a milliwatt of mechanical energy exists in each cubic centimeter of the ambient environment.
Wang’s device relies on incredibly thin zinc oxide nanowires, which are arranged in a vertical array to harvest light and ambient motion. Image courtesy of Nano Jet News.
Many devices, however, cannot be sustainably powered by nanogenerators alone; solar cells generate a larger voltage more practical for use in bright environments. To miniaturize solar power capture, Wang made use of an existing technology called a dye-sensitized solar cell (DSSC). These cells are made by combining an anode with an electrolyte solution to form a semiconductor.
First, a dye is applied to the anode to make it sensitive to light. When light strikes the dye, it releases electrons that flow through the anode toward the electrolyte solution, generating a current. Wang’s method employs the same principle on a miniaturized scale. Dye-coated ZnO nanowires serve as the anode, surrounded by the cell with a chamber of electrolytic fluid, forming a DSSC small enough to integrate with a nanogenerator.
After refining both technologies in collaboration with Dr. Xudong Wang of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Wang has discovered a way to incorporate both nanogenerators and DSSCs into a device he terms a “hybrid cell.” The upper layer of the cell harvests light energy, and the nanogenerator below collects ambient motion. A single layer of silicon is sandwiched between the two and functions as an electrode for both devices, combining their energy into a single output. The two sources can be connected in parallel for higher currents and in series for higher voltages.
Even in the absence of light or motion, the circuit can still be completed. This is highly desirable because it generates electricity based on what is available. The hybrid cell captures what it can from the environment, but it is not limited by the absence of one source. Furthermore, although the nanogenerator alone produces a low voltage, combining it with the solar cell boosts the overall voltage of the device. These complementary sources allow the device to efficiently use energy resources in a variety of environments and situations.
Solar-powered calculators are a macroscopic example of using ambient energy to power a device. Image courtesy of Office Depot.
Hybrid energy harvesters are well suited to power implantable medical devices and other small electronics. In particular, Wang has proposed the installation of hybrid cells on sensing devices that gather information about the environment. This would replace traditional macroscopic sensing and provide more points of data for analysis. Using this richer data source could revolutionize fields such as environmental temperature studies, military reconnaissance, medical endoscopies, and underwater exploration.
However, there are many factors that must be addressed before this technology can be deemed dependable enough to power life-saving medical devices and other valuable electronics. One major problem is consistency, since solar energy cannot be harvested within an organism due to the lack of light. Additional complications arise from the ZnO wires in the nanogenerator. They are not all of the same length, resulting in some wires that are too short to touch the zig-zag electrode and others that are too long to flex and produce a current.
Wang and his team are working to address these challenges. To improve the nanogenerator component, Wang anticipates increasing the wire density to result in greater power output: If there are more wires per unit area of the substrate, there will be more electricity generated. Researchers are also investigating devices that can harness other sources of energy, such as thermal and chemical, and be incorporated into the cell. Biochemical energy — using enzymes to catalyze energy-yielding reactions — is particularly attractive due to its prevalence inside an organism where light energy is low.
A hybrid cell in series conformation showing how the nanogenerator and solar cell are combined. The layer of silicon in between the two portions functions as a shared electrode. Image courtesy of Zhong Lin Wang
The integration of two energy-harnessing methods is the true genius of Wang’s work. As the movement for self-powered electronics gains momentum, future combinations may harness thermal, biochemical, and other energy sources depending on the device’s location. Each energy source has its own limitations, but integrating multiple collectors into one device leads to efficiency, reliability, and sustainability. It may not be so long before our iPods are powered by the steps we take in our morning jogs.
About the Author: Kevin Boehm is a sophomore in Silliman College majoring in Biomedical Engineering. He is the vice president of the Yale Biomedical Engineering Society and conducts research in diagnostic radiology at the Yale School of Medicine.
Jim Lee (creator of ClimateViewer 3D, and TerraformingInc) is in the active design / production stage of a next generation social media product.
Jim is at the point where he needs real backing, from the community here online, also via corporate sponsorship / investment.
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There is so much more to this awesome new program ! (watch the video to hear Jim's description of his designs).
Jim (who goes by r3zn8d from youtube) is seeking help from the community in multiple ways...
If you are capable of helping Jim finance this endeavor, please use the links above.
There are multiple ways you can take action to help him get this out to the world.
If you have programming expertise, or up-to-date hardware that you are willing to donate (servers/server space/bandwidth) please also contact Jim Lee as soon as possible.
Jim is seeking help from online viewers (via crowdfunding / donations) , and is asking for corporate sponsorship for the heavy lifting that needs to be done in a short amount of time.
Corporate donors / sponsors / investors can contact Jim Lee via his Facebook, Website, Twitter, or Youtube. Or contact myself (dutchsinse) or Tatoott1009 ... and we can put you directly in touch with Jim via phone or private email.
Finally, if you can't afford to help financially but still want to make a difference, PLEASE SHARE this information !! Maybe someone down the road will be able to help after seeing what you shared.
Many thanks to those who help, and thanks to all for watching / caring about these issues !