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
A computer chip, containing a sample of nanoES tissue
Realistically, though, we’re a long way away from such applications. In the short term, though, these cyborg tissues could be used to create very accurate organs-on-a-chip — lab-grown human organs that are encased within computer chips and then used to test drugs or substance toxicity, without harming a single bunny or bonobo.