Archives for category: Diagnostics

photo source

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:

Our body has an amazing sense of recognizing something as self or foreign, harmful or beneficial. However, our interpretation of this data and pinpointing specific diseases leads to the sometimes complicated world of diagnostics. The process of finding what disease, organism, or bacteria is present in the body, then recognizing and analyzing it involves multiple systems. Funded by the the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) and the U.K. Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, scientists are developing a small ‘biohybrid’ robot called the Cyberplasm which uses living cells and technology to find and interact with bacteria and cells within our own bodies. Once something is identified, it can be reported back to an engineered nervous system to interpret. Based on the form and function of a sea lamprey, a simple sea creature pictured above, the small robot will be able to swim through our bodies to possibly record data, find and identify diseases.

This is no small feat. In order to achieve this, the Cyberplasm is equipped with synthetic muscle to propel it through the body, which requires the biologic conversion of sugar to energy. Synthetic sensors scope the environment and report back to an electronic nervous system. This is all part of an engineering principle called “Synthetic Biology,” where man made devices mimic life’s functions. Optoelectric interfaces are being developed to adapt and respond to a changing environment as the robot swims through the body. The power of the robot will come from microbial fuel cells, a renewable energy, converting bacteria to electric current and energy.