Unlike with most other cells, studying the heart’s beating cardiomyocytes is prone to difficulty because attaching rigid sensors to moving cells hinders the movement of those cells. A collaboration of Japanese scientists at University of Tokyo, Tokyo Women’s Medical University, and RIKEN research institute have developed an extremely soft and flexible electronic mesh that can be intimately integrated with the beating myocardial cells, while not interrupting their movement, providing an unprecedented ability to study their activity.
The new polyurethane “nanomesh,” as the sensor is being called, has wires, only 100 nanometers in width, made of nano-scale pieces of gold. There shouldn’t be any chemical interaction with the cells to be studied, as all the ingredients of the mesh are perfectly biocompatible.
While the mesh is pretty cool, the research was really made possible by a flexible substrate, made out of fibrin gel, on which the cells could grow. A special process was used to place the nanomesh on top of the substrate. The cells could then be placed on the gel and proliferate throughout, and in contact with the sensor.
The technology will give scientists a better way to study living heart cells, but it may also lead to a new way for electronic cardiac implants to interface with the heart’s tissues.