UK scientists grow cells on moving robot skeleton

London, May 27 (IANS) A team of scientists at the University of Oxford and robotics firm Devanthro have, in a novel research, grown cells on a moving robot skeleton.

Robotic devices are increasingly used in tissue engineering and tissue culture strategies to provide mechanical cues and modulate the growth of cells and tissue. They are typically integrated in systems called bioreactors, which control the conditions necessary for maintaining and stimulating living cells and tissues outside the body.

For more than 20 years, robotic bioreactor systems have facilitated the growth of tissue-engineered constructs using mechanical stimulation.

“However, we are still unable to produce functional grafts that can translate into clinical use.

“Humanoid robots offer the prospect of providing physiologically-relevant mechanical stimulation to grafts and implants which may expedite their clinical deployment,” the team wrote in the paper published in the journal Communications Engineering.

They described adapting an open-source robot skeleton and creating a custom growing environment for the cells that can be fitted into the skeleton to bend and flex as required, The Verge reported.

The team chose the robot’s shoulder joint, which had to be upgraded to more approximate human movements. Then, they created a bioreactor that could be fitted into the robot’s shoulder, consisting of strings of biodegradable filaments stretched between two anchor points, like a hank of hair, with the entire structure enclosed within a balloon-like outer membrane.

The hair-like filaments were then seeded with human cells and the chamber flooded with a nutrient-rich liquid designed to encourage growth.

The cells were grown over a two-week period during which they enjoyed a daily workout routine. For 30 minutes each day, the bioreactor was slotted into the shoulder and, for want of a better term, waggled about (though in a very scientific manner), the report said.

Led by Pierre-Alexis Mouthuy of Oxford’s Botnar Institute of Musculoskeletal Sciences, the team showed that growing cells in a robot skeleton is certainly possible.