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Cell Rover: Exploring and augmenting the inner world of the cell | MIT News


Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Media Lab have designed a miniature antenna that can operate wirelessly inside living cells. This antenna has the potential to monitor and direct cellular activity in real time, opening up possibilities for medical diagnosis, treatment and other scientific processes.

“The most exciting aspect of this research is the ability to create cyborgs at the cellular scale,” said Deblina Sarkar, assistant professor at the MIT Media Lab, AT&T Career Development Chair, and director of the Nano Cybernetic Biotrek Lab. . “We can fuse the diversity of information technology at the level of cells, the building blocks of biology.”

A paper describing the study was published today in the journal Nature Communications.

The technology, named Cell Rover by the researchers, represents the first demonstration of an antenna that operates inside a cell and is compatible with a 3D biological system. According to Sarkar, typical bioelectronic interfaces are millimeters or centimeters in size, are highly invasive, and cannot provide the resolution required to wirelessly interact with single cells.

The antenna developed by Sarkar’s team is much smaller than a cell. In fact, in the team’s oocyte studies, the antennae are less than 0.05% of his cell volume, well below the size that would invade and damage cells.

Finding a way to build an antenna sized to work within the cell was a significant challenge.

This is because the size must be comparable to the wavelengths of the electromagnetic waves that conventional antennas transmit and receive. Such a wavelength is very large, the speed of light divided by the frequency of the wave. At the same time, increasing the frequency to reduce its ratio and antenna size is counterproductive. This is because high frequencies generate heat that damages living tissue.

Media Lab researchers have developed an antenna that converts electromagnetic waves into sound waves. The wavelength of a sound wave is five orders of magnitude smaller than the wavelength of an electromagnetic wave and is the speed of sound divided by the frequency of the wave.

This electromagnetic-to-acoustic wave conversion is accomplished by using a material called magnetostriction to fabricate a miniature antenna. When a magnetic field is applied to the antenna and the antenna is powered and activated, the magnetic domains within the magnetostrictive material align with the magnetic field, causing strain in the material. This is a cloth that has metal pieces woven into it reacting to a strong magnet and causing it to distort.

When an alternating magnetic field is applied to the antenna, the various strains and stresses (pressures) created within the material are what produce the acoustic waves within the antenna, a student in Sarkar’s lab said in this study. said Baju Joy, lead author of . “We have also developed a new strategy using non-uniform magnetic fields to introduce rovers into cells,” adds Joy.

Antennas configured in this way could be used to investigate the biological underpinnings of how natural processes occur, says Sarkar. Instead of destroying cells and interrogating the cytoplasm, as is commonly done, Cell Rover monitors cell development and division, examining various chemicals, biomolecules such as enzymes, or physical changes such as cell pressure. can be detected in real time. In vivo.

Researchers say materials such as polymers that change mass or stress in response to chemical or biomolecular changes are already being used in medicine and other research and could be integrated into the Cell Rover’s operation. I have. Such integration may provide insights not available with current observational techniques that involve cell disruption.

A cell rover with such capabilities could be of value, for example, in cancer and neurodegenerative disease research. As Sarkar explains, this technology can be used to detect and monitor disease-associated biochemical and electrical changes as they progress in individual cells. Applied in the field of drug discovery, this technique has the potential to reveal the response of living cells to various drugs.

Thanks to the sophistication and scale of nanoelectronic devices such as transistors and switches, they “represent 50 years of tremendous progress in the field of information technology,” Sarkar said. His Cell Rover with a mini antenna can perform various functions. To intracellular computing and information processing for autonomous exploration and regulation of cells. This study demonstrated that even within a single cell, multiple cell rovers could be involved to communicate between and outside the cell.

“Cell Rover is a groundbreaking concept that allows us to embed sensing, communication and information technology inside living cells,” said Dean of the MIT School of Engineering and Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at Vannevar Bush. Anantha P. Chandrakasan said. “This will not only open up unprecedented opportunities for highly precise diagnostics, therapeutics and drug discovery, but also new directions at the intersection of biology and electronic devices.”

Researchers named the intracellular antenna technology Cell Rovers to evoke a mission to explore new frontiers, like the Mars rover.

“You can think of Cell Rover as an expedition to explore the inner world of a cell,” says Sarkar.


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