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Now Available: Innovators Under 35 2013 See The 2013 List »

35 Innovators Under 35

Bozhi Tian, 32

Artificial tissue that can monitor and improve health down to the level of individual cells

University of ­Chicago

Illustration by Michael Gillette

"Cyborg tissue could allow us to put multifunctional prosthetics in humans,” says Bozhi Tian. That goal is still a long way off, but Tian has taken a key step by creating artificially grown tissue that’s intelligent. So far, he’s developed a synthetic blood vessel that can detect the pH of solutions flowing through it. And with different nanoelectric sensors embedded in that and other tissue replacements, Tian thinks, the technology could one day wirelessly monitor proteins linked to cancer and other diseases.

Tian’s cyborg tissue project grew out of another impressive feat: an innovative method for detecting electrical changes in living cells. Instead of sticking fine-tipped glass pipettes into the cells, a conventional technique that ends up killing them within a few hours at most, Tian created a semiconductor device made of a kinked nanowire less than 50 nanometers wide at the tip.

He then coated the tip of his probe with molecules similar to those found in cell membranes, enabling the device to enter the cell with minimal damage. The implanted nanowires can potentially send information for days, and cells can tolerate multiple wires, making it possible to map complex changes across the cell.

By coating the wire with antibodies, which can be designed to latch onto a specific molecule, researchers could enable the tool to detect the presence of specific proteins seen when a particular disease state is getting better or worse. That could be useful for monitoring how cells respond to different compounds being considered for use as drugs.

Tian, an assistant professor at the University of Chicago, is currently working on equipping cells with electronic components that don’t merely monitor activity but actively affect it. Get ready for the cyborg cell.

Susan Young

2012 TR35 Winners

Sarbajit Banerjee (video)

Windows that block heat—but let it through when you want them to

Mircea Dincă

Using sponges to improve and store alternative fuels

Prashant Jain

Tuning nanocrystals to make tinier, more efficient switches for optical computing and solar panels

Nanshu Lu (video)

Soft, flexible electronics bond to skin and even organs for better health monitoring

Joyce Poon (video)

A tiny roller coaster for light could help keep data ­centers cool

Pratheev Sreetharan (video)

Mass-producible tiny machines snap into place like objects in a pop-up book

Bozhi Tian (video)

Artificial tissue that can monitor and improve health down to the level of individual cells

Zheng Wang (video)

Slowing light to help chips cope with optical data

Baile Zhang

A new type of invisibility cloak made from a common material can work with larger objects

See This Years' Winners

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