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Unique property demonstrated for conductive polymers

Organic electronics based on ion conductive polymer compositions rather than silicon can be employed to manipulate signals in living cells. This property has been demonstrated in scientific collaboration between LiU and the medical university Karolinska Institutet, KI.

Electrons are the information-bearing components of conventional electronics. In living organisms, the signaling utilizes ions and proteins. Conductive polymers have the capability to transmit both electrons and ions—a unique property that the LiU/KI team exploited to construct an ion pump able to translate an electronic signal to a flow of ions.

"The ion pump allows us to control the flow of, say, calcium inside the cells. Doing this is normally rather a challenge," explains Magnus Berggren, LiU professor in the field of organic electronics.

The team's breakthrough is reported in the September issue of the high-ranking journal Nature Materials. The study was conducted under the auspices of the Sweden-based strategic research center for Organic Bioelectronics (OBOE). Professor Berggren and Agneta Richter-Dahlfors, professor in cellular microbiology at KI, were in charge. Most of the hands-on trials were carried out by postgraduate researchers Joakim Isaksson and Peter Kjäll.

"Science has made considerable headway in the exploration of ion signaling, " adds Agneta Richter-Dahlfors, "but a pivotal question still seeks its explanation. How does the cell know how to behave when so many events are controlled by one and the same ion? Our new findings allow us to delve deeper into this mystery."

The calcium ion is a primary neurotransmitter in the human body. Cardiovascular disease is one of many ailments that are due to dysfunction of the calcium signaling system. Electronic control of the ion flow in a cell culture can provide us with new knowledge of the signal paths which might prove very useful in drug design."


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Last updated: 2009-06-03