Researchers at the University of California have successfully embedded nanowires into embryonic stem cells, opening the door for potential controlled tissue differentiation and guided intracellular delivery of DNA particles.
A new way of embedding silicon nanowires in cells could one day allow scientists to control how living tissues grow using electrical stimulation.
Living cells cannot easily be connected to nanowires. In the past, researchers have had to physically push nanowires or carbon nanotubes into the cells, which can damage or kill them.
However, Peidong Yang of the University of California at Berkeley and a team of researchers found that when cells in a solution settle onto an array of silicon nanowires, they gradually incorporate the wires into the cells without any resistance.
Importantly, the team didn’t use just any old cells – they used embryonic stem cells from a mouse that had begun differentiating into cardiac muscle.
Stem cells are especially intolerant of being disturbed, but the researchers managed to grow the mouse cells for over a month with the wires inside. They even watched as the mass of cells beat like a heart.
With the wires safely embedded, the next step will be to zap the cells with a current to see how they respond. Yang believes that by varying power levels he can make the cells differentiate into various tissues such as neurons, muscles, or glands like the pancreas.