Bio-Digital Cyborg for the Future of Human Space Exploration


Pat Pataranutaporn

Pat Pataranutaporn

April 15, 2021

Virtual MIT Space Week: Beyond the Cradle 2021

We explore the vision of closed-loop bio-digital interfaces for human augmentation, where the bio-digital system allows for both sensing and writing biological information to the body. Current-generation wearable devices sense an individual's physiological data such as heart rate, respiration, electrodermal activity, and EEG,  but lack in sensing their biological counterparts, which drive the majority of an individual's physiological signals. On the other hand, biosensors for detecting biochemical markers are currently limited to one-time use, are non-continuous, and don't provide flexibility in choosing which biomarker they sense. We believe that the future for wearable biosensors lies in going beyond specific sensing capabilities and becoming a wearable "lab" on the body, where a small device can offer a fully integrated and re-configurable system that mimics several processes usually performed in the laboratory for clinical diagnostics and analysis of human health. To illustrate our vision of having a lab on the body, we prototyped "Wearable Lab" a bio-digital platform for sensing biochemical and digital data from saliva. Our platform contains digital sensors such as an IMU for activity recognition, as well as an automated system for continuous sampling of biomarkers from saliva by leveraging existing paper-based biochemical sensors. The platform could aid with longitudinal studies of biomarkers and early diagnosis of diseases. We present example data collected from the device, show a preliminary evaluation, and discuss the limitation of our platform.

The ability to write information back to the body is the second half of the closed-loop human augmentation cycle. Similar to how closed-loop glucose-insulin monitoring and delivery platform has been proven to have a superior clinical impact for diabetic patients, we imagine that in the future, a closed-loop wearable system might be able to sense multiple biomarkers and physiological data and deliver multiple types of intervention to keep the person healthy as well as augment their capabilities in a time of need. As the second part of this thesis, we present "Wearable BioFab", a programmable bio-digital “organ”, consisting of an on-body digitally-controlled biosynthesis platform for personalized, on-demand production of biological compounds.  We prototyped a millifluidic bioreactor to produce biological compounds through the use of digitally controlled multi-wavelength mechanisms leveraging engineered genetic circuits. To interface biological production with a digital system, we deployed an RGB optogenetics circuit, a multi-channels light-activated system that allows for wavelength switching to activate the production of different components using digital control. By mounting miniaturized light sources with a microcontroller, liquid circulating,  temperature control system, and digital display interfaces, we can fabricate a compact millifluidic wearable device. We present our characterization of this platform, show preliminary evaluation, and discuss the limitation of the platform. Together, "Wearable Lab" and "Wearable BioFab" demonstrate our vision of closed-loop bio-digital interfaces for human augmentation, which we hope will inspire the future integration of biology and computing, and shape the new era of human-computer integration.

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