Cell Rover: Exploring and augmenting the inner world of the cell
Researchers at the MIT Media Lab have designed a miniature antenna that can operate wirelessly inside of a living cell, opening up possibilities in medical diagnostics and treatment and other scientific processes because of the antenna’s potential for monitoring and even directing cellular activity in real-time.
“The most exciting aspect of this research is we are able to create cyborgs at a cellular scale,” says Deblina Sarkar, assistant professor and AT&T Career Development Chair at the MIT Media Lab and head of the Nano-Cybernetic Biotrek Lab. “We are able to fuse the versatility of information technology at the level of cells, the building blocks of biology.”
A paper describing the research was published today in the journal Nature Communications.
The technology, named Cell Rover by the researchers, represents the first demonstration of an antenna that can operate inside a cell and is compatible with 3D biological systems. Typical bioelectronic interfaces, Sarkar says, are millimeters or even centimeters in size, and are not only highly invasive but also fail to provide the resolution needed to interact with single cells wirelessly — especially considering that changes to even one cell can affect a whole organism.
The antenna developed by Sarkar’s team is much smaller than a cell. In fact, in the team’s research with oocyte cells, the antenna represented less than .05 percent of the cell volume, putting it well below a size that would intrude upon and damage the cell.