Technology with attitude

Implantable Chemical Circuits to Build Computer Chips That Directly Interface With Human Cells


Swedish bioelectronic engineer Klas Tybrandt has developed an implantable chemical chip that might one day control and regulate the signal paths of cells in our human body. Why is it good for us? Because these transistors that traffic in neurotransmitters will enable us to build computer chips that directly interface with the cells in our body. And yes, these implantable chips will one day create a Brave New World populated by supernatural cyborgs.

The Organic Electronics research group at Linköping University previously developed ion transistors for transport of both positive and negative ions, as well as biomolecules. Tybrandt has now succeeded in combining both transistor types into complementary circuits, in a similar way to traditional silicon-based electronics.

“We can, for example, send out signals to muscle synapses where the signalling system may not work for some reason. We know our chip works with common signalling substances, for example acetylcholine,” says Magnus Berggren, Professor of Organic Electronics and leader of the research group.

The development of ion transistors, which can control and transport ions and charged biomolecules, was begun three years ago by Tybrandt and Berggren. The transistors were then used by researchers at Karolinska Institutet to control the delivery of the signalling substance acetylcholine to individual cells. The results were published in the well-known interdisciplinary journal PNAS.

In conjunction with Robert Forchheimer, Professor of Information Coding at LiU, Tybrandt has now taken the next step by developing chemical chips that also contain logic gates, such as NAND gates that allow for the construction of all logical functions.

His breakthrough creates the basis for an entirely new circuit technology based on ions and molecules instead of electrons and holes.

The results have just been published in Nature Communications.