Redox Biomolecules are the Future of Bio-hybrid Wearables and Implants

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redox biomolecules
University of Maryland | Gradschool.umd.edu

Scientists have discovered a new way to control the behavior of cells and gene expression. Will this discovery pave the way for the future of bio-hybrid devices?

We see more and more devices targeted at health and fitness these days, and that’s all thanks to research that explores how we can make devices interact with natural, biological processes. The world has been forced to keep pace with medical revolution after medical revolution, and the current trends are focusing on smaller and smaller aspects of our biology.

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By understanding the way that biological components such as genes or cells communicate, scientists are starting to tap into ways to control their communications, and a recent discovery from the University of Maryland (UMD) may have made a huge step forward for the future of bio-hybrid devices with the use of what they are calling ‘redox biomolecules‘.

The Road is Paved with Microelectronics

The researchers at UMD, led by Professor William Bentley, created an electrogenetic device that uses an electrode and engineered cells to manipulate important cellular messengers called redox biomolecules. By manipulating the biomolecules, the team could control how genes expressed within a synthetic gene circuit.

By using their patent-pending device, the researchers were able to control gene expression and cause bacteria to move. Furthermore, they built an information relay for the bacteria to pass information to other groups to change a gene expression.

According to Bentley, the change caused bacterial cells to interpret oxygen signaling processes, and they made a genetic circuit to control the programmed response. They were able to guide the direction of a cell’s function by using pyocyanin (Pyo), which is a metabolite that can oxidize and reduce other molecules for gene induction. Using Pyo enabled the team to turn gene expressions ‘on’ or ‘off,’ which they were able to control electronically by using ferricyanide, another redox molecule.

The findings showed two notable things:

  • First, electronically activated cells can be made to send natural, biological signal molecules to neighboring cells, and that mechanism can be used to control cell behavior.
  • Second, electrogenetic devices can be programmed to control various biological behaviors remotely.

These findings provide a new picture for the future of electrogenetic devices and their role in the medical fields.

What Could Redox Biomolecules Mean for the Future of Bio-Hybrid Devices?

If we can control genetic expressions, we can control a lot about our biological processes. For bio-hybrid devices, that means that we can use them for quite a bit more than we are using them for right now.

Current bio-electronics have changed how we live our lives by connecting devices to our very biology, but they are aimed at responding to biological processes instead of changing them.

According to Professor Gregory Payne, “Electronics have transformed the way we live our lives, and there have been increasing efforts to ‘connect’ devices to biology, such as with glucometers or fitness trackers that access biological information, but, there are far fewer examples of electronics communicating in the other direction to provide the cues that guide biological responses. Such capabilities could offer the potential to apply devices to better fight diseases such as cancer or to guide inflammatory responses to promote wound healing.”

By changing the focus of bio-hybrid devices from reacting to being proactive, new possibilities will open up for their use in the improvement of health. Bio-monitors are excellent additions to industry 4.0, but if we’re looking forward to that cure for cancer that is on the horizon, we need to learn how to reach out and affect our biology on a genetic and cellular level.

The team at UMD believes that their system can be tailored to produce many different responses, and it might even be useful in nanoscale fabrications. For now, the method is newly discovered, but hopefully, soon we will start seeing the fruits of this step toward a greater understanding and control of human biology.

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