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The future of healthcare includes robotics devices which mimic living tissue and may help to target and perform functions with superior accuracy and efficiency of drugs. A 2014 study by Cvetkovic et al. presented the first engineered skeletal muscle machine which moved unattached to any other device. These small soft robotic devices were able to contract and crawl on their own, mimicking the function of skeletal muscle tissue. The shell of the machine is made from hydrogel to encase the tissue. Meanwhile, engineered muscle building cell tissue, along with proteins such as collagen or fibrin were printed on 3D printer and encased in this shell to make the tissue functional.

The many systems that need to be coordinated for muscle contraction are difficult enough to just understand, but to be able to engineer something that mimics the function is amazing. For muscle tissue to contract and produce force requires an intense network of neural input and coordination of responsive tissue. There must be enough elasticity in the muscle to produce the force; ultimately the change in length and contraction of muscle tissue produces the force for movement. The tissue must be slightly stretched at all times for potential contraction; but not so far that it loses the ability to contract. This all occurs with electrical cues which send signals to the muscle tissue for contraction.

The future of these small biological machines has many implications, as the article explains. Future uses include drug screening, drug delivery, medical implants, and biomimetic machines.

See the video below for demonstration: