Researchers operate lab-grown heart cells by remote control: Graphene surface allows researchers to control cell behavior with light — a technique that could speed the search for more precise, less toxic therapeutic drugs — ScienceDaily

In this study, the researchers generated heart cells from donated skin cells, via an intermediary cell type called an induced pluripotent stem cell (iPSC). Then they grew these iPSC-derived heart cells on a graphene surface.

Savchenko said it took the team awhile to pin down the optimal graphene-based formulation. Then they had to find the best light source and way to deliver that light to the graphene-cell system. But they eventually found a way to precisely control how much electricity the graphene generated by varying the intensity of the light to which they exposed it.

“We were surprised at the degree of flexibility, that graphene allows you to pace cells literally at will,” Savchenko said. “You want them to beat twice as fast? No problem — you just increase the light intensity. Three times faster? No problem — increase the light or graphene density.”

Savchenko and colleagues found they could likewise control heart activity in a living organism (zebrafish embryos) using light and dispersed graphene.

The team was also surprised at the absence of toxicity, which often presents researchers with a huge challenge. “Normally, if you introduce a new material in biology, you’d expect to see a certain number of cells killed in the process,” Savchenko said. “But we didn’t see any of that. It makes us hopeful that we’ll be able to avoid harmful problems later on, as we test various medical applications.”

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