A schematic of the sensor structure and cell-sensor interface. (Image: umass.edu)

Using a suspended nanowire, a University of Massachusetts research team has created a tiny sensor that can simultaneously measure electrical and mechanical cellular responses in cardiac tissue — a first.

Team member and Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) Ph.D. student Hongyan Gao described it as “a new tool for improved cardiac studies that has the potential for leading-edge applications in cardiac-disease experiments.”

“A comprehensive assessment of cellular status requires knowledge of both mechanical and electrical properties at the same time,” said Team Leader Jun Yao, ECE Assistant Professor and a Biomedical Engineering adjunct.

These two properties are usually measured by different sensors, and the degree to which the cell’s function is disturbed increases with more sensors used.

The sensor is constructed from a 3D-suspended semiconducting silicon nanowire. Much smaller than a single cell, the nanowire can tightly patch onto the cell membrane and “listen to” cellular activities. It also has unique properties to convert “heard” bioelectrical and biomechanical activities into electrical sensing signals for detection.

“Other than developing integrated biochips, our next step is to integrate the nanosensors on free-standing scaffolds to innervate in vitro tissue for deep-tissue studies,” Yao said. “In the long run, we hope the nanosensors can be safely delivered to living cardiac systems for improved health monitoring and early disease diagnosis.”

Yao noted that the concept of merging multiple sensing functions in one device will also broaden the capabilities of general bio-interface engineering.

For more information, contact Melinda Rose at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.; 413-545-2990.