In Brief
  • Scientists are developing new ways to bridge the gap between our bodies and electronics by mimicking the connections between neurons.
  • Countless individuals stand to gain increased functionality and quality of life by these new developments in bio-hybrid devices like prosthetics and brain implants.

Making a Connection

With electronics and technology rapidly advancing, it’s no wonder there are heightened opportunities for bioelectronics and human-computer interfaces in medicine. The biggest challenge these technologies face is creating synergy between the electronic device and the body, so they’re able to communicate at a molecular and macro level.

Scientists from Italy aim to solve this problem by developing a living bio-electronic hybrid system that functionally bridges information between human-made devices and biological systems. The work is detailed in AIP Advances.

The research team first investigated the biocompatibility of a suspect substrate, which is what physically connects electronic devices to the body. The responsiveness of the substrate and the cells adhering to it were tested using light-scanning methods.

These biological materials were connected to an electric component called a memristor, a shortened term for memory resistor. Silvia Caponi, physicist at the Italian National Research Council, explains that depending on the amount of voltage that has been applied to it, it can vary resistance. These make possible the creation of electric circuits that can function similarly to the synaptic connections between neurons.

A Seamless Interface

While the research only tests the feasibility of such a system, it paves the way for the successful integration of better electronic devices into humans.

Man controlling a robotic arm with brain waves using BCI. Credit: OpenBCI
Man controlling a robotic arm with brain waves using BCI. Credit: OpenBCI

Bioelectronic devices have long been in development, and are greatly improving the lives of patients afflicted with different conditions: amputees can feel through prosthetics with tactile sensors, patients with spinal cord injuries are regaining the ability to walk using brain implants, and the blind are regaining the ability to see using bionic eyes that tap directly into the optic nerve. With this bio-hybrid system, seamless interfaces could be on their way.

It’s truly a digital and electronic age. The rapid advances in the devices we develop, when coupled with medicine, are poised to make a massive impact in the well-being of millions of people.