Herding cells with electricity
Drawing inspiration from sheep dogs that herd their flock, researchers are now able to similarly herd biological cells for tissue engineering. Led by associate professor Michel Maharbiz from electrical engineering and computer sciences and bioengineering graduate student Daniel Cohen, the researchers found that an electrical current can orchestrate the migration of groups of cells. By applying electrical current to single layers of epithelial cells (binding cells that line organs and body cavities), they were able to herd cells from side to side or to make U-turns. With stencils, they sorted cells into shapes—including the familiar shape of the Cal bear—and investigated effects on electrified cell motion. One application of this cell-herding technology could be smart bandages: with a grid of electrodes, bandages could stimulate currents into wounds to expedite healing.