Bridging the Biological and Engineering Worlds: Tetsuhiko Teshima Tells His Story

An expert in micro-nanofabrication technologies with a strong background in biology, Dr. Tetsuhiko Teshima is eager to bridge these disciplines, even if it takes him around the world. He joined NTT Research’s Medical and Health Informatics (MEI) Lab as a Research Scientist in March and will be filling that role through a three-year appointment at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) Neuroeletronics Group as a Visiting Researcher. His research to-date covers a broad range of areas that intersect with the MEI Lab’s goals in the nano-sensor technology field. He comes to NTT Research via positions at NTT’s Bio-medical Informatics Research Center, and NTT Basic Research Laboratories. He holds an M.S. (biology) and Ph.D. (information science and technology) from the University of Tokyo.

He recently shared the following thoughts about his background, research interests and expectations for his work at TUM:  

How has your academic background shaped your outlook and research interests? 

Originally, I studied molecular biology. Using the conventional biological tools, I noticed that new techniques or methods were required for any breakthroughs in discovering new biological phenomena. That is why I jumped into the new “engineering” field – to develop new methods and analytic tools for biological experiments – and got the Ph.D. The combination of both conventional biology and engineering made me realize that it has great potential applications to many fields, like high-throughput assay, microbiology, tissue engineering and bioelectronics. 

Your research to date has covered a broad range of topics. In what areas do you think you have made the most contribution? 

My main skill is micro and nanoscale electromechanical systems (MEMS/NEMS) or micromachine. So, I’m very good at making small objects, regardless of the material types and stiffnesses. Therefore, my academic contributions are in the engineering fields, while the biological application is just a demonstration to evaluate the function of fabricated objects. However, through the mechanical engineering of new materials, devices or systems, I hope to obtain unexpected and derivative scientific findings in biology, material science, physics and medical fields.

Why did you decide to join NTT Research? What do you find appealing about this organization? 

I was very fascinated by the international environment that NTT Research has. I have worked with only the academic and industrial community in Japan. They have been very wonderful for me, but I have always felt that much higher diversity in the worksite and collaboration scheme would accelerate R&D, because my research target requires collaboration with many chemists, physicists and biologists. I think that the international environment that NTT Research provides will help not only promote my research, but also establish a wider collaborative research network in the U.S. and Europe.

You are working with the TUM Neuroelectronics Group in the areas of advanced neuroelectronics and biosensor technology. What do you hope to accomplish?

They are the research specialists who have explored the conductive and biocompatible materials and developed printing techniques to make bio-electrodes. They also have various systems to measure the electrochemical properties of the developed electrodes. So, I’d like to learn about the materials, the new printing strategy and the electrochemical evaluation process through this opportunity to collaborate with them. Then I’d like to develop new types of biocompatible and implantable electrodes that can work inside the body. Finally, I hope to obtain the data, especially electrical signals, from the targeted tissues using these newly developed sensors and electrodes and work with information scientists or data analysts at NTT Research to develop automated predictive and diagnostic tools.

What will be your first common project with the Neuroelectronics Group?

The first project in the group is to add new functions to the conventional electrodes. One of them is “transformability,” especially the ability to change dimensions. The electrodes with high shape transformability are in high biological demand, like conformally attaching to the 3D tissue structures or following their complicated movement. Therefore, I’d like to develop new implantable electrodes with the embedded ability of shape transformation upon response to intrinsic or external stimuli, by screening the functional material candidates that are biocompatible and able to alter their shapes upon a desired stimulation. At the same time, I’d like to explore the changes in electrical or electrochemical properties that are associated with electrode transformation.

What do you think your field will look like five years from now? 

Currently, almost all of the electrodes, semiconductor and sensors that you can buy look hard, 2D and brittle. But I believe that some types of soft, flexible and transformable products will be commercially available especially in medical fields in next five years. By working with the wonderful team at TUM, I hope to provide findings or engineering breakthroughs that can contribute to or accelerate this scientific and industrial trend.