Scientists have successfully grown a ‘cyber organoid,’ a simplified organ formed from stem cells with integrated electrochemical sensors to observe its development.

Organs are formed by the self-assembly of stem cells into complex 3D structures. However, due to the difficulty of monitoring this process there are still significant gaps in scientists’ understanding. Electrochemical sensors have been used previously to monitor the signalling and attractive forces between cells as they develop.

These sensors have been limited by their size and flexibility; they often damage the cells and disrupt cellular networks before they can observe them. The researchers therefore developed a new flexible mesh based electrochemical sensor. They increased the flexibility of the mesh by forming it into serpentine structures, similar to the kind found in wearable electronics, to monitor cell differentiation without causing cell damage.

The mesh sensor was placed on a 2D sheet of human derived pluripotent stem cells. The cells started to proliferate, which started to integrate the mesh into the cell structure. The structure then started to fold into the complex 3D structure of the organoid, which evenly distributed the sensor mesh throughout the structure. Lastly, the cells differentiated into specialised heart cells to form the complete heart organoid.

As the sensors were completely integrated into the organoid, the researchers were able to observe the electrophysiological properties of the cells as they differentiated. By comparing the protein markers expressed in cyborg organoids non-cyborg organoids across the development process it was determined that the addition of electronics did not impact cell differentiation.

Researchers now want to make organoids for other organs, including the pancreas and the brain.