Researchers at Technische Universitaet Muenchen (TUM) and the Juelich Research Center have demonstrated, for the first time, a graphene-based transistor array that is compatible with living biological cells and capable of recording the electrical signals they generate.
Bioelectronic applications have been proposed that would place sensors or even actuators inside a person’s brain, eye, or ear to help compensate for neural damage. Pioneering research in this direction was done using the mature technology of silicon microelectronics, but in practice that approach may be a dead end: Both flexible substrates and watery biological environments pose serious problems for silicon devices; in addition, they may be too “noisy” for reliable communication with individual nerve cells.
Of the several material systems being explored as alternatives, graphene seems very well suited to bioelectronic applications. Graphene’s distinctive combination of characteristics makes it a leading contender for future biomedical applications requiring a direct interface between microelectronic devices and nerve cells or other living tissue. It offers outstanding electronic performance, is chemically stable and biologically inert, can readily be processed on flexible substrates, and should lend itself to large-scale, low-cost fabrication.
The latest results from the TUM-Juelich team confirm key performance characteristics of graphene and open the way for further advances toward determining the feasibility of graphene-based bioelectronics.