Scientists Develop ‘Cyborg Cells’ That Could Improve Environmental and Human Health
With the ability to act as living cells, minus the function of replicating, new “cyborg cells” developed by biomedical engineers could solve a host of problems in the future, including cleaning up the environment and improving human health.
Scientists from the University of California, Davis developed the “cyborg cells,” which are semi-living and can be used for various applications. They are also stronger against stressors that can kill regular cells. The team shared their findings in Advanced Science.
According to Cheemeng Tan, senior author of the study and associate professor of biomedical engineering at UC Davis, there are two methods of synthetic biology to produce cells. One approach includes remodeling a cell’s DNA with new genes, but this means the cell can continue to replicate. The second method is to create a cell with synthetic parts, which will not replicate but will also have less capability.
The biomedical engineers at UC Davis developed a synthetic cell using a third approach, in which they infused bacterial cells with an artificial polymer. The polymer was then exposed to UV light, leading to intracellular hydrogelation. As a result, Tan explained, “The cyborg cells are programmable, do not divide, preserve essential cellular activities, and gain nonnative abilities.”
The team also found that the resulting artificial cells had better resistance to things like hydrogen peroxide, which typically causes irreversible oxidative damage to cell parts and kills off cells, as well as high pH environments and cell wall-targeting antibiotics.
Further, the study found that these “cyborg cells,” with the help of the protein Invasin, could invade cancer cells in vitro, although the team notes this area of study needs fine-tuning to improve the synthetic cells’ abilities to target cancer cells.
With their research, the scientists believe the “cyborg cells” could be improved upon and used for many different types of applications, including for cancer treatment, developing pharmaceuticals and even cleaning up pollution in the environment.
“Research in this area could expand Cyborg Cells for in vivo applications, such as antibacterial treatment, biosensors, gut microbiome modulation, and cancer therapy,” the authors said in the study. “The new stress-resistant feature of Cyborg Cells could allow them to work robustly in certain natural environments. We envision that our Cyborg Cells would become a new class of synthetic therapy-delivering systems positioned between classical synthetic materials and cell-based systems.”
Three of the study authors have submitted an application for a provisional patent on their process of developing the synthetic cells.
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