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Harvard boffins build cyborg skin of flesh and nanowires

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Humanity has taken another step down the path of the Borg with the invention of the first flesh containing a functional nanowire sensor network that's biocompatible with the human body.

"With this technology, for the first time, we can work at the same scale as the unit of biological system without interrupting it," team leader Charles Lieber, the Mark Hyman Jr. Professor of Chemistry at Harvard, told the Harvard Gazette. "Ultimately, this is about merging tissue with electronics in a way that it becomes difficult to determine where the tissue ends and the electronics begin."

A team from Harvard University has built the cyborg flesh by laying out a 3D grid of nanowires and small sensors and then growing tissue around them. The group has got as far as building blood vessels with the technique that can measure pH levels, as well as a chunk of rat neurons, heart cells, and muscle that can be used to test drugs.

"Previous efforts to create bioengineered sensing networks have focused on two-dimensional layouts, where culture cells grow on top of electronic components, or on conformal layouts, where probes are placed on tissue surfaces,” said team member Bozhi Tian.

"It is desirable to have an accurate picture of cellular behavior within the 3-D structure of a tissue, and it is also important to have nanoscale probes to avoid disruption of either cellular or tissue architecture."

The next step is to build these nanowire systems so that they can not only monitor, but also control the tissue they are built into. The field has possibilities for building prosthetic devices that can link up with human nerve tissue, or even organs that could be implanted and controlled by the recipient.

It might also lead to the creation of an army of cyborg warriors to destroy mankind, although the researchers left that last part out. El Reg suspects that Reading University's Captain Cyborg is already frothing at the mouth with eagerness. ®

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