The University of Berkeley made a new discovery. They were able to herd cells using an electrical field. As Emil du Bois-Reymond discovered back in 1843, damaged human tissue generates a different electrical field than intact flesh. This difference in electrical current between intact and damaged flesh can actually be measured on a galvanometer.

Bois-Reymond knew that there was an electrical field change somewhere, but was never able to exploit that knowledge. Now, the UC Berkeley team have discovered that groups of cells can be herded to flow across a surface using electrical fields.

The team was able to coerce the cells to migrate at will, turning left and right, moving forward and back, even U-turning.

"This is the first data showing that direct current fields can be used to deliberately guide migration of a sheet of epithelial cells," said study lead author Daniel Cohen, who did this work as a student in the UC Berkeley-UC San Francisco Joint Graduate Program in Bioengineering. "There are many natural systems whose properties and behaviors arise from interactions across large numbers of individual parts—sand dunes, flocks of birds, schools of fish, and even the cells in our tissues. Just as a few sheepdogs exert enormous control over the herding behavior of sheep, we might be able to similarly herd biological cells for tissue engineering."

What does this mean for us normal folk? For starters, smart bandages that cover and actively direct the wound's healing by exerting an electrical field to expedite the movement of new skin cells into position, and possibly other medical marvels waiting to happen.

Is this how Wolverine heals?


 [Nature via Kurzweil]