By altering the genetic makeup of normally “unexcitable” cells, Duke University bioengineers have turned them into cells capable of generating and passing electrical current.
This proof-of-concept advance could have broad implications in treating diseases of the nervous system or the heart, since these tissues rely on cells with the ability to communicate with adjacent cells in order to function properly. This communication is achieved through the passage of electrical impulses, known as action potentials, from cell to cell.
“We believe that our approach opens the door to a wide range of novel studies involving electrical communication between cells and may also help us to understand and develop treatments for disorders of electrically active tissues,” Bursac said. “For example, genetically engineered excitable cells could be important in treating heart attacks, in which damaged portions of heart muscle become electrically disconnected and are unable to contract in synchrony with neighboring healthy cells.” said Rob Kirkton, graduate student in the laboratory of senior investigator Nenad Bursac, associate professor of biomedical engineering at Duke’s Pratt School of Engineering.