Research Highlights

Tubistor: A novel biological transistor

Published online 30 October 2018

Electrical properties of cells can be detected efficiently by a 3D biological transistor. 

Islam Elkholi

Charalampos Pitsalidis
An international team of scientists, including a researcher from King Abdullah University of Science and Technology in Saudi Arabia, has fabricated Tubistor, a biological transistor that directly assesses the electrical properties of cells in culture. 

The human body’s cells normally emit electrical signals. Linking this cellular electric activity to specific biological processes, like cell growth, holds promise for better understanding the basic mechanisms of multiple diseases such as cancer.

However, the accurate recording of this activity in a 3D context that mimics the human body has been a colossal task for researchers. 

To overcome this, Tubistor is made of a 3D scaffold formed of a conductive organic material that facilitates its action as a transistor — a tool that controls the flow of electrical current through electrical circuits.

This scaffold is also suitable for culturing cells. Due to its design, the seeded cells can receive a continuous supply of nutrients. 

As a proof-of-concept, the team recorded the fluctuations in the electrical activity emitted from Tubistor while culturing two different types of cells for two days in the scaffold. 

“We believe that Tubistor is a convenient tool to monitor human organs in the lab,” says biochemist Róisín Owens from the University of Cambridge, UK. 

“Using the cellular electrical activity as a surrogate for biological processes and complicated molecular events happening in cancer cells, for instance, can facilitate the process of drug discovery,” she adds. 


Pitsalidis, C. et al. Transistor in a tube: a route to three-dimensional bioelectronics. Sci. Adv. 4, eaat4253 (2018).