Campus scientists win ‘Oscar of invention’Work on ‘bionic chip’ honored by tech-magazine editors

By David Pescovitz

11 September 2002 |

Boris Rubinsky, professor of bioengineering and mechanical engineering, and his former graduate student Yong Huang will receive what the Chicago Tribune calls an “Oscar of invention” this month. The 2002 R&D 100 Award, conferred in print by the editors of R&D Magazine, is for the pair’s “bionic chip,” a device that may help revolutionize medicine by applying electronic technology to living tissue.

First unveiled two years ago, the micro-electromechanical chip acts as an electronic doorknob that opens up the pores in fragile, living cells. The bionic chip’s operation is based on electroporation, a technique for forming pores in a cell’s membrane by applying a specific voltage. While electroporation is already a standard means of introducing macromolecules into cells, it has typically been applied to batches of cells at a time, with little ability to control the voltage applied to individual cells. Rubinsky and Huang developed a way to treat each biological cell like a diode, or switch, allowing current to flow through it at an optimal voltage.

Patented by the campus, the technology was licensed for commercialization to Bioelectronic Micro Systems, a start-up founded by Rubinsky and Huang and funded by the Florida Hospital in Orlando.

“There is a free flow of information between my laboratory at Berkeley and the company,” Rubinsky says. “The chip is an ideal lab tool for us to study fundamental biophysics and develop applications.”

The use of electroporation to help repair damaged heart muscle is one potential medical application, Rubinsky suggests, adding that “Our feeling is that the future of biotechnology rests with the electroporation process.” Laboratories around the world are conducting research using the bionic chip, but Berkeley remains the bionic chip’s alpha test site, he says.

Rubinsky and Yong Huang will receive the award from R&D Magazine at an October ceremony in Chicago.


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