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Periodic Report Summary 1 - PHANES (Multi-cellular hybrid bio-MEMS)

Summary of the project objectives

The main goal of the project PHANES is the fabrication and assembly of multi-cellular hybrid bio-MEMS by manipulation with optical tweezers, aiming to produce highly biocompatible and autonomous microsystems.
PHANES plays at the interface between microfabrication and cell biology. It aims to take advantage of the recent advances in assembling microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) by optical tweezers in order to combine cellular and silicon based intelligence into novel smart systems. The outcome of this endeavor will contribute to the advance of the state of the art in emerging technologies as well as enable novel applications. The project is an essential part of the long-term development of active and implantable bio-medical MEMS, i.e. functional micro-prostheses such as inner ear replacements or iris reconstructions.

Description of the work performed and main results

In order to assemble biohybrid micro devices by optical means, it is necessary to first investigate cell growth conditions as well as design and biocompatibility of the MEMS. The first research period successfully addressed this challenge by answering the following two related scientific questions:

- What are the cell growth conditions and co-culture protocols for multi-cell patterns in order to keep the initially induced order during growth?
For this purpose, a novel method for the optical positioning and long term co-culture of multicellular biohybrid microsystems was established. The initially induced order could be kept by geometrically containing the cell migration.

- How can we induce a material-independent bio-compatibility of the MEMS bricks by surface patterning? The intrinsic biocompatibility of the microstructures has been achieved by developing a novel microfabrication technique which enables to fully remove toxic agents such as polymerization radical and solvents.

Based on these results it was possible to develop a microstructure which promotes the cell adhesion as well as the guided cell migration and differentiation. This enabled the microfabrication of advanced muscle driven micro device (Gullo et al., 29th IEEE International Conference on Micro Electro Mechanical Systems, p 721, 2016, DOI: 10.1109/MEMSYS.2016.7421729).
In the following project phase the next generation of bio-compatible MEMS containing electric components will be fabricated and interfaced with neuronal cells. This will allow address the muscle driven actuators in a more precise manner.

Potential impact

Combining the optical assembly of cells with MEMS will result in an unprecedented kind of hybrid system. For the first time the fabrication of micrometer-sized, autonomous hybrid and multi-cellular bio-MEMS is foreseen.
In the field of cell culturing the concept of optical manipulation will open new and promising possibilities to pattern and co-culture cells. Even without considering the combination with MEMS this ability goes beyond what has been reported so far. In the long term, the ability of positioning and co-culturing multiple type cells in 3D opens a wide range of applications in the field of biotechnologies and biomedical technologies. In fact, advances in this field will create timely relevant opportunity for the development of active micro-prostheses:

- Self-powered, micronsized hybrid bio-MEMS may considerably contribute to the down scaling of implantable sensors, due to the combination of self-powered, actuating and sensing cells with intelligent MEMS.

- The combination of patient cells with implantable devices may increase the body acceptance of the devices and so reduce the fibrotic rejections leading to frequent exchange of the devices.

- Interfacing hybrid devices with neurons can contribute to advances in neuroplastic surgery as well as to body replacements such as inner ear cochlea and eye iris.

- The design of a universal intelligent MEMS bricks for cell assembly will doubtlessly set the basis for unprecedented combinations of cells and MEMS and set a milestone in the development of hybrid bio-MEMS.

This project represents a unique opportunity for European Research Community to fortify its scientific excellence by developing a new kind of hybrid micro systems that can become a revolution in bio-technological and potentially in bio-medical related research and industry.

Contact information

Prof. Oliver Paul, Dr. Maurizio Gullo, University of Freiburg, Department of Microsystems Engineering (IMTEK), Georges-Koehler-Allee 103, 79110 Freiburg, Germany
Email:, Web:

Related information


Oliver Paul, (Professor)
Tel.: +49761 203 7191
Fax: +49761 203 7192


Life Sciences
Record Number: 187595 / Last updated on: 2016-08-22
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