Life-Nanomachine Synergism

Biswajit Sarkar with images from by SciePro & Inok

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Nanoelectronics has the potential to enable radical tools for in-vivo interrogation of our biological systems in order to answer fundamental questions in biology as well as to provide novel technologies by combining diagnostics with automated, therapeutic effects at cellular precision. Realization of this promise, however, will require severe dimensional and power scaling of electronics, which is beyond the physical limitations of conventional nanoelectronics, dealing a hard blow to this dream. Our aim is to develop extremely energy-efficient and ultra-scalable, next-generation nano-machines that overcome these fundamental limitations and can make this dream come true, opening up entirely new avenues that were unthinkable earlier. These devices will possess the capabilities of energy harvestingwireless communication with systems outside the body, and can be remotely controlled. They will be coated with biomolecules such that they can effectively camouflage and trick the body into thinking that it is a part of its own biological system. Such devices can cause a paradigm shift in life-machine synergism.

The possibilities with such bioelectronic devices are endless, and we are exploring, among other opportunities, brain activity recording at a large scale with a precision of single neuron, activity recording in spinal cord and peripheral nervous system, monitoring tumor microenvironment, observing response to pathology development or external stimulus at a single cell level, along with integrated functionalities such as stimulation and drug delivery.

Recently we have developed the technology called Cell Rover - first ultra miniaturized antenna that can work wirelessly inside a living cell in 3D biological systems. This technology can explore and augment the mysterious inner environment of the cell and can bring in the prowess of information technology inside a living cell to create cellular scale-cyborgs! This work has been featured as the Editors’ Highlight in Nature Communications which showcases the 50 best papers recently published.

The versatility of electronics is that they are inherently fast and can be designed according to an engineer’s dream to perform unique functions, which are beyond the capabilities of biology. While our immediate aims are to develop electronic devices for probing and controlling/modulating (for therapeutics) the body and brain, our long-term goal is to achieve seamless integration of nanoelectronics-bio hybrid structures into biological systems to incorporate functionalities not otherwise enabled by biology—thus helping us transcend our biological constraints.