Jan. 11, 2017 - Kara McCloskey, EBICS faculty member at UC Merced, collaborates with Renuka Nandkishore and Rashid Bashir's lab at UIUC to teach students in her Tissue Engineering Design course to build living, walking robots, aka "bio-bots," out of engineered muscle cells. By harnessing the adaptive response behaviors of biological materials, bio-bots could accomplish more than traditional robots can, due to complex functionalities like self-assembly or self-healing. "Bio-bots have only been around since 2012, so this is really cutting-edge science with multiple technologies - natural materials assembly, 3-D printing, genetic engineering, cell patterning and self-assembly, mechanical force generation - all in a micro-scale platform," McCloskey said.
UIUC developed the bio-bot teaching curriculum and provided the most critical tools, protocols and lecture materials -- the molds for the muscle rings, the 3-D-printed skeletons and the original cell line -- to support delivering the course at collaborating EBICS institutions. McCloskey's UC Merced students are the first from another campus to learn this module as part of their coursework. In learning to assemble cells into functional tissue, McCloskey's students culture the cells in soft, gelatin-like polymers called hydrogels. They pattern the cells in the gel so they will self-assemble into muscle rings, attach the rings to 3D-printed "bones" to create the 7-millimeter-long, light-responsive bots, and then exercise biological machines to build strength called contractile forces.
With an altered design, the bio-bots could be customized for specific applications. Researchers in McCloskey's School of Engineering lab are using similar technology to pattern stem cell-derived heart cells into a sheath of living cardiac tissue that could patch areas of human heart muscle that have been damaged by heart attacks. The sheath would contract and expand just like natural tissue does, in rhythm with the heart. But they must figure out how to integrate patterned synchronously contracting muscle with vasculature to supply blood, and so far, the two have not integrated well.
Ritu Raman, EBICS postdoctoral fellow at UIUC helped design and co-lecture the bio-bot course, focusing on teaching students how to use 3-D printers to design and build their own biological machines. "We see many potential applications for bio-bots ranging from healthcare to national defense to environmental cleanup," Raman said. However, the focus of the curriculum isn't on applications, but on teaching future engineers the fundamental design rules and principles of building with biology. "We want to introduce biological materials into the toolkit of the next generation of makers by giving them hands-on experience with bio-bot design and manufacture," Raman said.
- Adapted from the original article by Lorena Anderson, UC Merced University News
- Knowledge Transfer