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The first step for cyborgs, i.e. for the integration of mechanical parts and circuits in living tissues, may have become a reality, with a Greek contribution…

The boundaries between biology and technology are becoming increasingly blurred, which, among other things, opens up new possibilities in the field of biomedicine. Researchers in Sweden, led by a Greek diaspora, have found an innovative way to grow electrodes inside living tissues themselves. The achievement is a major step toward creating bioelectronic circuits fully integrated into the human brain, nervous system and other parts of the body.

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The body’s own endogenous molecules proved sufficient to trigger the formation of the bioelectronics (electrodes), without the need for any genetic modification or external signals such as light or electricity, which were necessary in previous experiments. Researchers in Sweden are the first in the world to achieve this: to introduce a substance into a living being and then it itself, using the body’s chemistry, transforms into a solid but flexible conductive, non-toxic and biocompatible polymer material suitable for implanted electronics.

Researchers from Linköping (Laboratory of Organic Electronics), Lund and Gothenburg universities, led by Xenophon Strakosa and Professor Magnus Begren, made the relevant publication in the journal “Science”. “For several decades we have been trying to create electronics that mimic biology. Now we let biology create the electronics for us,” said Begren.

Connecting electronics to biological tissues is important to better understand complex biological functions, fight various brain diseases, and develop next-generation human-machine interfaces. But conventional bioelectronics developed alongside the semiconductor industry have a rigid electronic substrate, as well as a fixed and static design, making it difficult, if not impossible, to combine with living, dynamic and sensitive biological systems, causing them to inflammation or injury.

New organic bioelectronics bridge this gap between the world of biology and that of technology. Researchers have developed a pioneering method for creating soft, electrically conductive materials inside living tissues. By injecting a gel of polymeric material containing enzymes, which act as catalysts, they were able to “grow” electrodes inside animal tissues, bypassing the need for a rigid electronic substrate.

“The contact with the substances of the body it changes the structure of the gel and makes it a good conductor of electricity, which was not the case before the injection. Depending on the tissue, we can also adjust the composition of the gel appropriately so that the electrical process continues,” said Strakosas. The Greek researcher is a graduate of the Physics Department of the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki (2003), where he also did a master’s degree in nanotechnology, while he received his doctorate in microelectronics from the French school Ecole des Mines de Saint-Etienne. After postdoctoral research at Sweden’s Linköping University, he currently works there and in Lund as a senior research engineer.

Experiments (on live fish and tissues of other animals) by him and his collaborators – including two other diaspora Greeks, Eleni Stavrinidou and Marios Savvakis of Linköping – showed that it is possible to create bio-electrodes in this way in the brain, heart and muscles of the animals, without causing any harm to them, as the bioelectronics were tolerated by their immune systems.

However, further long-term safety and stability studies should be done to determine whether the new technology can be safely integrated into humans for long periods of time. If the green light is indeed given, then any living human tissue will essentially be able to be turned into electronic, bringing closer the “marriage” of living and non-living matter, a development bordering on science fiction.

However, various practical problems will have to be overcomebefore the new substance is tested on humans, as e.g. the polymer inside the body is an extremely good conductor of electricity, but no way has yet been found to connect it to an external source of electricity and thus become functional.