Sunday, November 18, 2012

A 3D-printed self-walking robot based on heart cells

It is amazing what engineers can do nowadays. New technology has allowed us to create our own biological systems that can, for example, be used for transplantation or for the creation of biological robots, otherwise known as cyborgs. An interesting recent example is a project where scientists turned an insect into something that we can control. Now, researchers from the University of Illinois have created a biological machine by printing layers of heart cells and a hydrogel polymer using a 3D printer.

Bio bot
Basically, the biological machine functions like a springboard and resembles a worm. To achieve movement, the scientists printed a thin layer of a hydrogel polymer and attached a couple of cellular layers. The cells were derived from the heart of a rat and cultured in a laboratory setting, before being printed onto the hydrogel sheet. The process resulted in a 7mm long bio bot that is capable of autonomous movement based on pulsating rat heart cells.

Below you will find a video of the bio bot movement which explains how movement is generated using layers of cells. It sort of resembles a worm crawling, only does the machine use the pulse of the heart cells to generate movement.
While a worm-like bio bot does not appear to be very useful, despite being an awesome piece of engineering, the scientists do think their prototype can be practically used for various purposes. Specifically, they aim to use their bio bot for drug screening: future setups should make the machine sensitive towards certain chemicals, which means that screening procedures help to figure out how cells respond mechanically to drugs.

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