In project INNOVATE, a group of researcher from IT is developing bioelectronic devices to communicate with living cells and tissues. The goal is to use electronic devices to instruct cells to repair nerves and restore faulty communication paths. For instance, devices can be used to repair spinal cord injuries or to establish a bi-directional electrical communication with cancer cells. Devices can specify patterns of electrical signals to instruct the cancer cells to switch their aggressive behavior, namely their capacity to migrate and survive.
The new therapies based on bioelectronic transducers have been possible because the research team has developed ultrasensitive devices that can record the electrical activity of non-excitable cells. Unlike neurons, other types of cells, such as cancer cells, generate very week electrical signals. In order to record these faint signals the research team developed a device with surfaces coated with a forest of structures similar to micro-mushrooms that can detect very low signals. The ultra-low noise allows demonstrating that brain tumor cancer cells can engage into cooperative activity and generate complex signals patterns alike the ones used in Telecommunications. Researchers speculate this signal mechanism may interfere with brain activity and trigger epileptic seizures in patients with brain tumors.
INNOVATE is a project coordinated by Henrique Gomes from the Organic Electronics group at IT. The consortium involves the IT branches of Lisbon and Coimbra, the CICECO – Aveiro Institute of Materials of the University of Aveiro and the Instituto de Física dos Materiais of the University of Porto.
INNOVATE is funded by the Fundação para a Ciência e Tecnologia (FCT) and, in its second year,already has major results published in Science Advances, Scientific Reports and IEEE sensors journal.