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February 5, 2009 at 2:30 PMComments: 0 Faves: 0

Growing Scottish Robots?

By Katie from SLN More Blogs by This Author

Implemented science rarely fulfills the wildly fictitious inventions of old books and movies. Our leading minds spend little time making flying cars and time machines, and instead work to improve basic needs, like health care. Still, recent advancements have taught us that when biology and technology develop to a certain degree, they can make the seemingly impossible possible, like using computer chips to grow and harvest human cells.

The University of Edinburgh's School of Engineering and Electronics has developed a process that allows neurons - the basic cells of the human nervous system - to grow on a computer chip. Researchers hope their findings will eventually enable computer chips to sustain the growth of replacement human tissue. Simply put, scientists may have discovered a process that will someday be a commonly used method for growing healthy human organs. Of course, such goals are a long way off. The current research is really only a baby step in the grand scheme. Right now, the most likely use of the technique will be to assist in drug research and reducing the need for animal testing.

The process itself is quite straightforward. The team, headed by Professor Alan Murray, etched patterns into the silicon surfaces of computer chips during the manufacturing process. Next, the chips were bathed in a mixture of specific proteins. The result was that neurons grew along the etched patterns. The same process works for stem cells. Theoretically, computer chips that are capable of growing human tissue could be implanted within a human body, and sustain the repair of damaged tissues. Murray doesn't hesitate to say aloud what most are already thinking: "It is going towards the realms of science fiction - there is a definite Incredible Hulk feel about it." The facts of these developments may take a bit to fully hit the consciousness of society. Along with the expected discussion of what this could mean to the medical community, there will undoubtedly be questions and theories raised in religious, sociological, and philosophical circles. Whatever the responses of these various groups, there is no denying the amazing advancements of the sciences, and the fact that biology and technology are ever growing closer together. Maybe some of those movies weren't so far off after all.

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