Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Are Mammals Ferroelectric?

Back in the 70's (and I'm going to date myself here), Gary Neuman and his Tubeaway Army had a big hit (at least in the UK) with the song "Are Friends Electric". So when I came across this review article on the study of mammals tissue that are ferroelectric, that tune came back into my head.

This is a rather interesting study because it leads to question on why and to what purpose is the ferroelectricity in such tissues.

The above discovery poses interesting questions regarding the purpose of ferroelectricity in aorta walls, where the blood pressure is highest and most pulsatile. Could the engineering principles of ferroelectricity, only mastered in modern times by mankind, have already been implemented in nature for millions of years? For example, could ferroelectricity function as a critical component in a local integrated memorylike structure, together with nerves within the aorta? Could it help sense very small temperature changes in our blood flow to help maintain temperature homeostasis? Could it also be a force sensor and play a role in blood pressure homeostasis? Or could it help dissipate the mechanical work into thermal energy when the aorta walls are subjected to strong transient shear flows in the blood? While these questions may stir up curiosity and further investigations from a fundamental standpoint, another important question is, how can we benefit from this finding through engineering? For example, can the change of ferroelectricity due to the local damage in the aorta walls be probed as a damage reporter? Can it guide effective drug delivery to local damaged zones in the aorta, and can ferroelectricity in the aortal walls be manipulated to prevent cholesterol from depositing onto the aorta walls, or help clean the deposited cholesterol, which may also possess ferroelectricity?
And again, this is another example where knowledge and advances in physics (in this case, condensed matter physics) have direct impact in other fields such as biology.


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