One of the first things that happens when you cut your skin is that a DC electric field arises at the wound site. This field, first discovered in the mid-1800s, is called 'the wound field', and has been shown to exist in a variety of forms in a variety of wounds. The salient point of the wound field is that there is reason to believe that we may be able to manipulate it to improve how our injuries heal in certain cases. In particular, we are considering assisting healing of injuries to skin, intestine, and bone using a device that can encompass the wound site, monitor particular physiological metrics (pH, endogenous electric signals, etc.), and electrically stimulate the wound to improve the quality and rate of healing. In order to better define how this device will look, we are currently conducting in vitro testing with our own microfabricated stimulation devices and epithelial cells that are involved in natural wound healing. While it has long been known that such cells will orient and move in the presence of DC electric fields, we are not aware of prior efforts to explore the degree of control that can be achieved by dynamically manipulating local electrical fields. For instance, if we take a cluster of cells and apply a localized field over just part of that cluster, can we locally sculpt the developing tissue? An interesting detail of this approach is that many of the analytical techniques we will be using are derived directly from those used to study emergent behavior in herding sheep, flocking birds, schooling fish, and large crowds of humans. Our goal is to use the minimum control inputs necessary to effect system level change in a tissue. Depending on how successful this is, these approaches could provide new ways of interacting not just with injuries but also with laboratory tissue engineering where we try to recapitulate the developmental environment to regenerate damaged organs or grow new organs.
Project end date: 02/05/14