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Implantable Biosensors

Implantable biosensors for in vivo theranostics

Funded by the National Science Foundation, Division of Chemical, Bioengineering, Environmental & Transport Systems

This multidisciplinary project reflects a research effort in the fields of synthetic biology, material science, and electrical and biomedical engineering and focuses on the development of implantable biosensors that merge autobioluminescent human cells with integrated circuit microluminometers to create miniaturized, implantable biosensing interfaces for in vivo biomedical imaging. The state-of-the-art in conventional in vivo bioimaging technology continues to rely upon external cameras to peer through living subjects to identify internalized bioluminescent, fluorescent, and other optical signatures.

Unfortunately, the visualization of light signals is typically achievable only down to a few centimeters in depth due to signal interference by tissues and organs. Our goal in this research effort is to develop implantable cell-on-chip biosensor hybrids to image from within the animal. By ‘humanizing’ a bacterial luciferase gene cassette for efficient expression under eukaryotic genetic controls, we successfully developed an autonomous bioluminescent imaging technology that does not require any external stimulation for signal generation.

This technology allows cells expressing the reporter gene cassette to continuously and autonomously produce a light signal whose intensity is correlated with cellular health and metabolic activity dynamics over the full lifetime of the cell. Partnering this technology with miniaturized integrated circuit light sensors, it is possible to develop implantable biosensors capable of intelligent biomedical surveillance.

Sustaining biosensor functionality within a living model signifies a transformative leap in optical bioimaging technology that overcomes the critical limitations imposed by existing external imaging instrumentation and brings us closer to biosensing strategies evolved towards human whole-body biosurveillance and adaptive sense-and-respond theranostics.

Getting Under Your Skin” in Quest magazine

For more information, contact Tingting Xu at or 865-974-8369.