August 16, 2010
Nanowire Transistors Monitor Inside Cells

Biocompatible, nanometer-scaled transistors: obviously what we all need and have been waiting for.

Researchers at Harvard University have made biocompatible, nanometer-scaled transistors that can be used to take highly precise electrical and chemical readings inside cells. The bioprobes are much more sensitive than the passive electrodes that have been used to make intracellular measurements in the past.

These scientists are also working with tissue engineers toward the goal of interfacing these nanowires to prosthetic devices. This would help amputees control artificial limbs. One can also imagine using such nanowires to jump over damaged sections of spinal cords that leave people paralyzed. If one can control an artificial limb why not use the same technology to reestablish control over a neurologically isolated limb?

Of course, nanowires into cells have other potential uses such as to transmit information about the biochemical state of some tissue or of blood. With nanosensors attached the nanowires could be hooked up to transmitter devices. What would listen to those transmissions? How about your smart phone? Or how about your house's main server computer when you are at home?

The technological advances are zooming along. What I worry about: Regulatory barriers to using embedded sensors to monitor your metabolism in real time. Regulators in both New York and California are blocking direct-to-consumer genetic sequencing services. Well, your genetic information is static information you were born with. If a state government can think you do not even have a right to that information (and if you have to ask a doctor for it you do not have a right to it) then what are they going to say to real-time embedded testing laboratories in your own body? Um, how about Nyet, nope, nein, no way.

There is a battle brewing between the regulatory state's desire to control the flow of biological information about your body and your right to know what is the state of your body. The controllers want you bow to a highly regulated medical priesthood to get that information about yourself, and then only the information they will allow you to know.

So far the forces for openness and freedom have not made much of a showing in opposition to the regulators. I think this is a state of affairs that needs to change. The potential health benefits from advanced embedded (and worn) monitoring sensors are huge. With future sensor technology e could get notified when we come into contact with toxins, when we are suffering from malnutrition or dehydration, when a pathogen has started to invade our bodies, or when our metabolism has changed in a way that suggests a heightened risk of stroke or heart attack. Embedded sensors could compensate for an aging body in many ways and even control an artificial liver to compensate for decay in natural processes of metabolic regulation.

Likely many other applications are possible. But to usher in that era of highly personalized genomics and real-time personal medicine we need to redraw the boundaries of regulation to enable us to unconditionally know more about ourselves. The flow of data from our bodies into our smart phones and PCs ought to be as free as the data flows across the internet.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2010 August 16 10:58 PM  Biotech Embedded Devices

PacRim Jim said at August 16, 2010 11:44 PM:

Real-time monitoring at the cellular level. I can see where this is going: Bye, bye, chronic disease.

Sione said at August 17, 2010 12:04 PM:


"But to usher in that era of highly personalized genomics and real-time personal medicine we need to redraw the boundaries of regulation to enable us to unconditionally know more about ourselves".


Anyway, either you own your own body or you are a subject owned by the state. In the second alternative you will only be permitted to access information and services conditionally.


Among the cows in Iowa said at August 17, 2010 12:08 PM:

Seeing what's happening is one thing.

Controlling it is another.

PacRim Jim said at August 17, 2010 12:58 PM:

True, seeing what's happening is one thing, controlling it is another. The point, though, is that chronic diseases often take decades to develop, so detecting it at an early stage would cause many to change behavior.

Randall Parker said at August 17, 2010 7:50 PM:

PacRim Jim,

Yes, detailed real-time data collection of our metabolisms would allow us to detect many problems at very early stages. We'd know to change our behavior, avoid a toxin, get a micronutrient, change our diet, or get some bad cells removed if we could find out much sooner what is going wrong.

Of course, our regulatory environment works against translating biological research into products. So you'll have to live a long time to see this sort of research reach wide availability.

subrot0 said at August 23, 2010 11:53 AM:

Wow, shades of Aldous Huxley. Imagine implanting this technology at birth so no genetic/chronic diseases. But still the data part has me worried. Shouldn't the family have access to this data (husbands, wives, grandfathers, grandmothers, same sex couples) need the information to make health decisions. So the line between public and personal data becomes really blurry.

Should I marry Suzie without looking at her health data? Should I allow Bob to live next door to me? What if he has AIDS? I will not give you any health insurance without access to your health data? Mr. Bob, you are the perfect candidate for this job, but we need to look at your medical data?

KenB said at August 23, 2010 12:16 PM:

If US regulatory authorities impede this, their conduct will merely spur medical tourism, so the rich will get the benefit and the rest of us will be screwed.

Hal Ham said at August 23, 2010 12:57 PM:

I think that this will actually bring on the mind uploading era, and none to soon. Real time analysis of neurons should allow computational simulation of "mind".

Doug Collins said at August 23, 2010 1:13 PM:

The obvious solution would be a law, or better, an amendment making your biodata your property. Then you could choose to sell it or give it away or not. As far as insurance or neighbors are concerned, their rights to your data would extend as far as their property rights and no farther. It's their insurance company-they can choose to do business with whoever they want-and so can you.

Parents and spouses would have the same rights to your property they have now.

I'd like the law to also include your name and credit data. If that has economic value -(and credit agencies and mass mailers indicate that it does) - then you should be entitled to at least part of it.

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