Feb 14, 2017 | By Tess

A team of researchers from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has spent the past few years working on the development of a new class of bio-bots, which use muscle cells, 3D printed scaffolds, and electrical and optical pulses to move. Now, the team has decided to share its research so that anyone (with the tools and skills) can make their own 3D printed bio-bot.

The instructions for building the current generation of bio-bot were recently published in the journal Nature Protocols under the title "A modular approach to the design, fabrication, and characterization of muscle-powered biological machines.” First author of the paper Ritu Raman, a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Bioengineering, explained that the protocol covers every step in building the bio-bots, from “3D printing the skeleton to tissue engineering the skeletal muscle actuator.” The paper also lists every piece of equipment, every tool, and every part used in the process, so committed individuals or teams can create their very own bio-bots.

Obviously, not every maker or 3D printing enthusiast will be equipped to create the bio-bots, as the process requires some scientific expertise and, evidently, certain bio-materials. Rather, the guide is meant as a “one-stop reference” for any scientist or researcher who wants to either recreate the bio-bot exactly or build on the research to develop their own bio-bots.

The bio-bots developed by the University of Illinois, which are less than 1 cm in size, can be adapted for a number of different applications, and demonstrate remarkable potential. As the research states, the bio-bots “could one day demonstrate complex behaviors including self-assembly, self-organization, self-healing, and adaptation of composition and functionality to best suit their environment.”

This adaptability is one of the main draws for advancing biological robots: with bio materials incorporated into them, the bio-bots become capable of responding to their environments or recording them. According to the University of Illinois research team, the bio-bots could be used in health, sensing, and environmental applications.

Rashid Bashir, head of the Department of Bioengineering at the University of Illinois, stated: “The purpose of the paper was to provide the detailed recipes and protocols so that others can easily duplicate the work and help to further permeate the idea of 'building with biology'—so that other researchers and educators can have the tools and the knowledge to build these bio-hybrid systems and attempt to address challenges in health, medicine, and environment that we face as a society.”

By providing the “recipe” for making the 3D printed bio-bots (a process which takes about eight days), the researchers are hoping to accelerate the field of bio-robotics and tissue engineering—not unlike the open-source philosophy that accompanies much of 3D printing technology. 3D printing has also played a crucial part in developing the bio-bots, providing the researchers with “the tools required to ‘build with biology.’”

“We re-designed the 3D printed injection mold to produce skeletal muscle 'rings' that could be manually transferred to any of a wide variety of bio-bot skeletons,” Raman said. “These rings were shown to produce passive and active tension forces similar to those generated by muscle strips.”

The full research protocol can be found here.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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