Editors' ChoiceTissue Engineering

Merging Electronics and Engineered Tissues

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Science Translational Medicine  12 Sep 2012:
Vol. 4, Issue 151, pp. 151ec164
DOI: 10.1126/scitranslmed.3004901

The engineering of three-dimensional tissues has been an active research area for some time—spurred not only by the great need for treating diseased or damaged organs and tissues, but also by the need for better in vitro disease models for the screening and development of new drugs. However, there has been a persistent difficulty in probing the interiors of these constructs to monitor their health, activity, or specific function.

Now, a collaborative team of investigators at Harvard and MIT report an elegant strategy to construct tiny networks of transistors embedded within three-dimensional tissue cultures. Termed "nanoelectronic scaffolds" (nanoES), the materials were fabricated to contain embedded silicon nanowire field-effect transistors supported by a flexible network of polymer struts and metallic interconnects. These networks were fabricated in a planar arrangement and then rolled into three-dimensional, macroporous networks that could be filled with cells and variety of extracellular matrix materials, including collagen, alginate, and biodegradable polymers. Outputs of these transistors were sensitive to the local microenvironments of cells embedded within the constructs, which allowed the electronic recording of a range of biological activities with unprecedented spatial resolution. Measurements reported in the paper include the spatially resolved beating of cardiomyocyte cultures as well as pH variations within tubular-engineered blood vessels.

The work has received attention in the scientific and lay press, in particular because the work represents an important step toward tissue-computer interfacing. With regards to the approach’s more immediate translational potential, it now enables the continuous monitoring of specifically addressable locations in cultured tissues, which may lead to improved platforms for the screening and development of pharmaceuticals.

B. Tian et al., Macroporous nanowire nanoelectronic scaffolds for synthetic tissues. Nat. Mater., published online 26 August 2012 (10.1038/NMAT3404). [Abstract]

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