By Rick C. Hodgin
Baltimore (MD) - Research chemists at Johns Hopkins University (JHU) have developed a water-soluble, organic, self-assembling electronic wire suitable for use inside the human body. Derived from carbon materials, the lightweight, flexible wires can power pacemakers, reconnect damaged nerve tissues, while also interacting with real electronic device that could augment or stimulate organic function. But do not worry, for this is only step one of the long process of turning us all into Borg-like drones.
The self-assembly process produces wires which are notably thinner than a human hair. They can be manufactured so small, in fact, that they could interact with individual cells. And therein lies significant potential for paralytics.
Researchers believe a procedure could eventually be developed whereby the severed portions of nerve fibers are reconnected with these new organic wires. Such patients could theoretically regain at least some of their former mobility, if not all of it, once the science is perfected and applied.
In fact, John D. Tovar, assistant professor, Department of Chemistry at Zanvyl Krieger School of Arts and Sciences, spoke of this very possibility. He said, "Can we use these materials to guide electrical current at the nanoscale? Can we use them to regulate cell-to-cell communication as a prelude to re-engineering neural networks or damaged spinal cords? These are the kinds of questions we are looking forward to being able to address and answer in the coming years."
The big prize
As Tovar indicates, perhaps the biggest benefit from this research is the mechanism which now exists. This team essentially overcame all of the problems associated with developing this kind of application. And now, they've presented unto the world what will be just another tool in a researcher's arsenal.
No longer will other scientists in other labs have to ponder over how they could create self-assembling wires for their needs. Now they can simply operate from within the mindset, "If we used their self-assembling wires here, then this new ability would be possible. Yes, it's all so clear now."
In short, with this powerful new ability added to the scientist's “toolbox,” now they can think in terms of the goal or destination rather than how to go about building the road to get there. Somebody else has done the hard work. And now, the application of the thing should quickly move to the realm of "Oh, how extremely beneficial. Thank you so much, doctor."