Researchers from the University of Oxford and robotics company Devanthro have grown cells on a robotic skeleton. Why? Because they could.
As originally reported by The Verge, this new method of tissue engineering is currently in the “proof of concept” stage. Culturing human cells in medicine is still quite a new area, and there is still a lot to explore in this area before we apply lab-grown human cells to patients.
When thinking about the situations where cells grow, on bodies that are constantly in motion, the University of Oxford thought it would be best to simulate that scenario: where cells have to constantly bend, twist, bend and move.
This brings us to the robotic shoulder, which is set up to mimic the conditions of the human body. In the robotic arm below, human cells are arranged to grow, able to adapt to the constantly moving conditions of a human-like arm.
“We’re still a long way from a fully functional tendon tissue graft, and we think this is partly because we don’t provide the same complexity of mechanical stresses around those cells, said Pierre Mouthy, a member of The Botnar Institute at Oxford University.
This led Mouthy to start developing this cell growth system.
How it works is a little more complex than a petri dish, where some cells can grow happily without much hassle. The tendon cells are grown on stretchable plastic scaffolds, through which fluid passes (this fluid supplies the cells with oxygen and nutrients). It is designed so that the cell container (the plastic scaffolding) can bend around like a shoulder, giving the cells an environment in which they have to adapt to moving conditions.
Constant relaxing and stretching has thus far stimulated cells to grow properly, although it is still a long way from what happens to our cells when we exercise them.
To drive cell growth, a Devanthro “Robody” robot was used. It is designed as a humanoid robot avatar and forms a perfect skeleton for the cells to grow in.
“What makes them special is that they have muscles and tendons like us humans,” says Rafael Hostettler of Devanthro.
With tendons and muscles, the Robody is the perfect candidate for cell growth in action. The mechanics are already there, all the team had to do was put the cell-filled plastic scaffolds on the robot.
“If it works, human patients of a day could be treated with tissue grafts grown in robots,” says the video voiceover.
†[It could be used for] improving rehabilitation exercises, by looking at how the cells are affected by a particular exercise, or it could also be used in translational research to screen through biomaterials to ensure they are mechanically suitable for humans,” added Pierre to.
“Now we’ve shown that it’s feasible to use this approach, and I think the fun is just beginning, because now that we’ve shown that it’s feasible to use those humanoid robots, we can explore the different possibilities that they can.” and see if it can really help to improve the quality of the grafts by delivering these more physiologically relevant mechanical stresses.”
Anyway, this skeletal cell study was a proof of concept. There are no plans to go into anything in the future, and as The Verge reported, this only showed the feasibility.
“Future work should investigate the effect of different loading regimes, scaffold materials, cell types and operational parameters. Potential long-term benefits of a humanoid bioreactor-based strategy include the production of functional tissue grafts for patients, the creation of an improved in vitro culture model for preclinical work, and the potential to support the development of advanced robotic systems,” the paper concludes. . †
You can read the research paper on this in Communications Engineering.