Scientists grow electrodes in brain, thanks to a simple viscous gel

Blurring lines between man and machine.
Deena Theresa
The injectable gel being tested on a microfabricated circuit.
The injectable gel being tested on a microfabricated circuit.

Thor Balkhed 

A breakthrough has made way for a new paradigm in bioelectronics. 

Earlier, it took the implantation of physical objects to initiate electronic processes in the body. Humans have incorporated technology to enhance the human experience and take charge of their evolution. They've also integrated devices within them that could alternately function as organs when biological tissues fail.

Scientists have now developed a viscous gel that will be enough in the future.

Researchers at Linköping, Lund, and Gothenburg universities in Sweden have successfully grown electrodes in living tissue using the body’s molecules as triggers. Published in the journal Science, the result paves the way for forming fully integrated electronic circuits in living organisms.

"For several decades, we have tried to create electronics that mimic biology. Now we let biology create the electronics for us," Professor Magnus Berggren at the Laboratory for Organic Electronics, LOE, at Linköping University, said in a statement.

Bridging the gap between electronics and biological tissue

Now, why is this significant?

Complex biological functions can be understood when electronics are linked to biological tissue. Diseases in the brain can be combated, and future interfaces between man and machine can be developed. 

However, this was impossible as conventional bioelectronics have a fixed and static design that is impossible to combine with living biological signal systems.

Researchers have developed a method for creating soft, substrate-free, electronically conductive materials in living tissue to bridge this gap. Upon injecting a gel comprising enzymes as the "assembly molecules", the researchers could grow electrodes in the tissue of zebrafish and medicinal leeches.

"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, a researcher at LOE and Lund University and one of the study's lead authors.

The team achieved electrode formation in zebrafish and medicinal leeches

The researchers further revealed that this method could target the electronically conducting material to specific biological substructures and create suitable nerve stimulation interfaces. 

In the experiments conducted at Lund University, the team successfully achieved electrode formation in the brain, heart, and tail fins of zebrafish and around the nervous tissue of medicinal leeches. The injected gel and electrode formation did not affect the animals. 

"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," said Professor Roger Olsson at the Medical Faculty at Lund University, who also has a chemistry laboratory at the University of Gothenburg.

Fabricating fully integrated electronic circuits in living organisms could be possible in the long term. Could the future be more exciting?

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