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Bioelectronic device achieves unprecedented control of cell membrane voltage

Driven by a machine learning algorithm, the closed-loop biohybrid device maintained a set membrane voltage in human stem cells for 10 hours.

In an impressive proof-of-concept demonstration, an interdisciplinary team of scientists has developed a bioelectronic system driven by a machine learning algorithm that can shift the membrane voltage in living cells and maintain it at a set point for 10 hours.

Every living cell maintains a voltage across the cell membrane that results from differences in the concentrations of charged ions inside and outside the cell. Often called the membrane potential or resting potential, this voltage is regulated by ion channels in the cell membrane and plays important roles in cell physiology and functions such as proliferation and differentiation.

Controlling cells with bioelectronics is difficult due to the complex ways cells respond to changes in their environment and the natural self-regulating feedback process known as homeostasis. Cells regulate ion movements to maintain a steady membrane voltage, so the researchers had to develop a system that could counteract this natural response.

“Biological feedback systems are fundamental to life, and their malfunctioning is often involved in diseases. This work demonstrates that we can tweak this feedback using a combination of bioelectronic devices actuated by machine learning, and potentially restore its functioning,” said Marco Rolandi, Ph.D., professor and chair of electrical and computer engineering at the UC Santa Cruz Baskin School of Engineering.

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