Leuven, Belgium: IMEC, the nano research organization, has developed a microchip with microscopic nail structures that enable communication between electronics and biological cells. Each micronail structure serves as a close contact point for one cell and contains an electrode that can accurately record and trigger in real time the electrical activity of an individual electrogenic cell in a network.
Electrogenic cells such as cardiomyocytes (heart cells) or neurons (brain cells) rely on electrical signals to communicate. Knowledge of the electrical activity of these cells is essential to gain insights in their communication process, to unravel the cause of brain disorders such as Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease, or to validate the effect of drugs on cells in the struggle against cardiac diseases.
The electrodes in IMEC’s micronail chip are downsized to the size of cells. They consist of tiny nail structures made of a metal stem covered with an oxide layer and a conductive gold or titaniumnitride tip. When cells are applied on the chip surface, their cell membrane engulfs the nail structures and creates a close contact with the electrode. This very close contact improves the signal-tointerference ratio, enabling precise recording of electrical signals and electrical stimulation of single cells.