DNA- and RNA-based electronic implants may revolutionize healthcare

DNA- and RNA-based electronic implants may revolutionize healthcare

The test tubes contain tiny DNA/enzyme-based circuits, which comprise TRUMPET, a new type of electronic device, smaller than a cell.

Courtesy Kate Adamala

Implantable electronic devices can significantly improve patients’ quality of life. A pacemaker can encourage the heart to beat more regularly. A neural implant, usually placed at the back of the skull, can help brain function and encourage higher neural activity. Current research on neural implants finds them helpful to patients with Parkinson’s disease, vision loss, hearing loss, and other nerve damage problems. Several of these implants, such as Elon Musk’s Neuralink, have already been approved by the FDA for human use.

Yet, pacemakers, neural implants, and other such electronic devices are not without problems. They require constant electricity, limited through batteries that need replacements. They also cause scarring. “The problem with doing this with electronics is that scar tissue forms,” explains Kate Adamala, an assistant professor of cell biology at the University of Minnesota Twin Cities. “Anytime you have something hard interacting with something soft [like muscle, skin, or tissue], the soft thing will scar. That's why there are no long-term neural implants right now.” To overcome these challenges, scientists are turning to biocomputing processes that use organic materials like DNA and RNA. Other promised benefits include “diagnostics and possibly therapeutic action, operating as nanorobots in living organisms,” writes Evgeny Katz, a professor of bioelectronics at Clarkson University, in his bookDNA- And RNA-Based Computing Systems.

Keep ReadingKeep Reading
Kenna Hughes-Castleberry
Kenna Hughes-Castleberry is a writer, podcaster, and science communicator. She currently works as the Science Communicator at JILA and is the Editor-in-Chief of their journal Light & Matter. She is also a freelance science journalist and writes for Inside Quantum Technology as a freelance staff editor. Her beats include deep technology, quantum technology, metaverse technology, and diversity within these industries. Kenna’s work has been featured in various publications including Scientific American, Discover Magazine, Ars Technica, Physics.org, Inside Quantum Technology, The Quantum Insider, The Deep Tech Insider, the Metaverse Insider, The Debrief, and Octonation. She currently sits on the board of SWARM (Science Writers Association of the Rocky Mountains) as well as teaches science writing to graduate students at JILA. You can find her on Twitter and Instagram: @kennaculture
When doctors couldn’t stop her daughter’s seizures, this mom earned a PhD and found a treatment herself.

Savannah Salazar (left) and her mother, Tracy Dixon-Salazaar, who earned a PhD in neurobiology in the quest for a treatment of her daughter's seizure disorder.

LGS Foundation

Twenty-eight years ago, Tracy Dixon-Salazaar woke to the sound of her daughter, two-year-old Savannah, in the midst of a medical emergency.

“I entered [Savannah’s room] to see her tiny little body jerking about violently in her bed,” Tracy said in an interview. “I thought she was choking.” When she and her husband frantically called 911, the paramedic told them it was likely that Savannah had had a seizure—a term neither Tracy nor her husband had ever heard before.

Keep ReadingKeep Reading
Sarah Watts

Sarah Watts is a health and science writer based in Chicago.

A robot cafe in Tokyo is making work possible for people with disabilities.

A robot server, controlled remotely by a disabled worker, delivers drinks to patrons at the DAWN cafe in Tokyo.

Photo courtesy of dawn2021.orylab.com.

A sleek, four-foot tall white robot glides across a cafe storefront in Tokyo’s Nihonbashi district, holding a two-tiered serving tray full of tea sandwiches and pastries. The cafe’s patrons smile and say thanks as they take the tray—but it’s not the robot they’re thanking. Instead, the patrons are talking to the person controlling the robot—a restaurant employee who operates the avatar from the comfort of their home.

Keep ReadingKeep Reading
Sarah Watts

Sarah Watts is a health and science writer based in Chicago.