Usually touted as materials for cheap, flexible versions of electronic devices such as computer displays and solar panels, conductive polymers could also have roles in emerging medical technologies. In a new investigation, biomedical engineers have chemically modified a conducting polymer so that it can coax nerve tissue to grow.
Several years ago, Christine Schmidt of the University of Texas at Austin discovered that nerve cells on a film of polypyrrole grow faster when the film is exposed to an electric field. Schmidt suspected the discovery was just a beginning.
"There are so many other signals in the body" that also spur tissue growth, says Schmidt. For instance, cells take cues from a variety of growth-promoting biochemicals.