Is it possible to build electrical micro circuits within human body in such a way that they could tell us about a person’s health in an online mode?
This seemingly fantastical goal was set by Chelyabinsk researchers. What is more is that these micro circuits will work on a molecular level, and golden nanoparticles will act as “analyzers”!
One possible application is diagnosing cancer and other illnesses at early stages, and human body biocorrection. Probably in the future it will become possible to actuate the mechanism of bioelectric activity of the brain which can send signals to the focus of a disease for the body to heal itself. This became the main topic of our conversation with one of the founders of this breakthrough nanotechnology, Fedor Podgornov, Doctor of Natural Sciences (German academic degree), staff member of the SUSU Laboratory of Molecular Electronics.
Left or Right?
— How did this idea come to you?
— We began working on this research in Germany at the Technical University of Darmstadt with my research advisor Wolfgang Haase, who now heads our laboratory as part of the international scientific collaboration. Then we continued this work in the leading international center for the study of liquid crystals in America at Kent State University in Ohio. This research center is headed by Professor Oleg Lavrentovich, a Ukranian immigrant, with whom we studied the effects of the electrokinetic motion of particles in liquid crystals, and nanotechnologies in biology and medicine. At Cambridge University I was able to participate in the creation of nano-dispersed materials for high-frequency electronics and holographic displays on liquid crystals.
— What is the novelty of your know-how?
— We are studying the interaction of nanoparticles and the so-called mesophase materials – liquid crystals. We found that metal nanoparticles interacting with those change both their own “optical response” and that of the matrix materials.
Chirality is one of the peculiarities of nature when the symmetry of “right” and “left” objects is violated, like in a mirror reflection, which is not possible to combine with the “original” through rotation. Typical chiral objects are human hands, and at the molecular level, for example, DNA.
Chiral and achiral materials interact differently with polarized optical radiation. If you illuminate a chiral molecule with an electromagnetic wave, both the electrical and magnetic components of the radiation will affect the electrical polarization. The difference of absorption coefficients of light radiation with diverse polarization is not equal to zero.
— What does knowing about the left or right structure of a material give us?
— This is used in biology and pharmacology for identifying molecule chirality. This information is of critical importance for creation of new medicines and in creation of medications where it is important to accurately separate right and left molecules, as they might radically differ in their physical, chemical, and biological properties. For example, cocaine with right-handed molecules is a narcotic, and with left-handed ones – a harmless substance.”
By the way, generic medicines which are seemingly chemically identical to original medicines might harm rather than heal if the right elements of the molecules are replaced by left elements during chemical synthesis. For example, in the 60s in the USA, many pregnant women had miscarriages because manufacturers didn’t at first pay attention to the molecular structure of medications.
“In Body” Electronics
— How does the addition of gold nanoparticles affect the properties of liquid crystals?
— Metallic nanoparticles have one unique feature. Plasmon resonance picks up on their surface which leads to their various colouring – into yellow, red, green, blue… The color depends on their size. One unique feature of gold is that it is a chemically inert metal, which makes it possible to use it in medicine. This is why multi-colored stained glass windows in churches which have gold added to them do not fade for centuries!
A chiral molecule is a molecular induction coil, and an achiral one is a wire. If you add a gold nanoparticle to it, the so-called Q-factor modulation occurs. This effect can be of use for creating an elemental base for molecular electronics.
— Is it possible to create a molecular induction coil?
— We have proven that implementation of gold nanoparticles makes it possible to solve this issue. By choosing molecules with various features, we can build an electrical circuit at the molecular level. This approach will make it possible to create ultra-compact electrical circuits which can be integrated in to human body, for instance! Today, electronics has already moved to the nano level, but with further reduction in size a significant energy loss occurs. We are studying cardinal solutions to this problem – using molecules for electrical components… We already have their predecessors – organic LEDs. I’m sure that future is in the molecular electronics.
— Where can this be applied?
— One popular area of application is diagnosing and correcting the status of the human body. This will be a sort of a molecular fitness tracker, like the popular among athletes electronic bracelets keeping track of health disorders. Online analysis of the condition of organs, brain activity, and control over processes on a molecular and cellular level will make it possible to diagnose the most dangerous illnesses at an early stage, preventing them from going to a critical stage.
— Which illnesses, in your opinion, will it be possible to cure using implanted “molecular chips”?
— It can help with early diagnosis and treatment of age-related diseases: Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. This discovery can become a tool for detecting genetic defects, diagnosis of cancer, and delivering medication to affected cells. For example, chemotherapy harms healthy cells, while gold nanoparticles melted using laser or microwave radiation can selectively destroy only the affected cells.
Delivering this to an affected focus in a body is possible using magnetic and electrical fields. Research is already being completed on “harnessing” sperm cells – a “golden backpack” is attached to it which will be triggered when approaching cancer cells.
The Spiral of Life
— Does the brain have healing powers?
— For now this is a mystery of nature. Biomolecular technologies may become an instrument for genetic engineering, or help with illnesses related to structural issues of the “spiral of life” – DNA.
The fundamental issue of the 21st century is deciphering human neurocode. It cannot be ruled out that in the future, the brain, having received information from molecular diagnostics, could send a healing signal to focus of an illness, facilitating the healing. But for now, humanity is just on the path to understanding this issue, and it would be unscientific to discard traditional methods of treatment.
— Is there any hope of defeating not only bacteria, but also undying viruses (including HIV)?
— Recently, it has been discovered that gold nanoparticles can kill viruses when “in tandem” with the rarest substance – fullerene, a special form of carbon recently discovered through spectral analysis in interstellar space (for which the Nobel prize was awarded).
This method could produce a revolution in the treatment of brain cancer. The brain is protected by a cell membrane which is difficult to penetrate, but researchers in Brazil found a solution to this issue by attaching a gold nanoparticle to liquid crystals.
— Could the chiral effect help recover eyesight?
— Yes, to some extent. In case of a damaged retina, the possibility of creating an artificial substitute from an organic film with dispersed gold nanoparticles is being studied. This is not a bionic eye, but a totally new technology, which could cause a revolution in ophthalmology.
— How does your discovery fit with the science of beauty?
— Professor Wolfgang Haase and I completed research on human hair for the cosmetics company Wella. It turns out that we can determine what region of the planet a person is from by the optical properties of their hair. In addition, nanotechnologies can help het rid of grey hair! If we put gold nanoparticles to hair bulbs, you can make hair whatever color you want without any dyes! And it won’t wash off!
“Molecular Baggage” to Mars?
— Could a tiny “molecular capsule” help with entering the space-scale?
— This technology is totally suitable for bioelectronics or 3D printing, which can make, for example, flying to Mars possible. Due to lack of room it’s impossible to bring everything that’s needed along, but molecular and nanotechnologies will allow to grow any object.
In addition, molecular electronics can become a biological alternative for future quantum computers and be used to store huge amounts of information and complex calculations.
— So, in your opinion, what will be the electronics of the future?
— I think it will be ultra-compact – featuring the nano- and molecular levels of matter.
In a word, the possibilities of our technology are almost limitless. Molecular bioelectronics are just one of the possible fields of application, and who knows what other surprises we will find by looking deep into the microworld of nature!