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OptoMed: Injectable Nanofibrous Optoelectronics as Regenerative Medicine

Carlsberg Foundation Young Researcher Fellowships

What

The OptoMed project seeks a non-genetic, light activated electrical modulation method on the firing patterns of neurons and heart cells by nano-photovoltaics presented on the surface of three-dimensional (3D) hydrogel nanofibers. Those nano-photovoltaics coded hydrogel nanofibers allows non-invasive injection to the desired tissues for wireless electric stimulation. Inspired by semiconductor energy sciences, photovoltaic effect of the nano-photovoltaics on modulating the cell membrane action potential will be investigated, with applications in neural and cardiac regeneration.

Why

There is a compelling need for the development of biocompatible, noninvasive, point-specific neural and cardiac intervention technologies, which are capable of alleviating various conditions affecting millions of people world-wide. Alongside the widely studied pathways of biochemical regulation, one often overlooked but significant influence over the biological systems is bioelectrical signaling. Although, electrical interfacing has been well studied for recording or stimulating neural and heart cells, new designs must overcome the mechanical mismatch between the soft, ion-rich, and evolving nature of natural tissue with the rigid, static realm of microelectronics that are unable to target individual cells and their circuits for elucidation and utilization of underlying mechanisms.

How

Light, especially near infrared light, allows remote and spatiotemporally accurate therapeutic interventions. Appreciating the nature of bioelectric signal transduction and communication as essentially one of energy exchanges, a biophysical breakthrough that allows optical stimulation of neural activity is recently achieved by exploiting the photoelectric effect of semiconductors. Academically exposed to biomaterials, neural tissue engineering and photovoltaics, together with US collaborators, we will focus on engineering biocompatible, organic photovoltaic coded biomaterials that allows non-invasive injection to the desired tissues for wireless, non-genetic, bioelectric signal modulation of neural and heart cells.

SSR

The minimally invasive integration of biocompatible photovoltaic modulation devices with the nervous or cardiovascular system will realize point-specific light activated electric stimulation, help to address unanswered questions in neurology and cardiology, reevaluate some principles that were believed to be understood, and, if successful, aid in the implementation of new therapeutics for various neural and cardiac conditions in the future.