UIUC Researchers Develop Tiny Spinobots with Rat Muscle and Spinal Cord Tissue

Faculty Investigator: Martha U. Gillette (UIUC)

Topic: Biomachines (Bio Bots), MPS (Neuron-Muscle)

Contributing Trainee(s) and corresponding trainee projects: Collin Kaufman —  Researchers develop tiny spinobots with rat muscle and spinal cord tissue

EBICS research at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has created a biohybrid robot featuring an actual rat spinal cord and a tissue-engineered muscle system. The tiny walking “spinobots,” are powered by rat muscle and spinal cord tissue on a soft, 3D-printed hydrogel skeleton. The lumbar spinal cord region was selected because previous work had demonstrated that it houses the circuits that control left-right alternation of lower limbs during walking. After culturing the system for a week, the spinal cord began to generate electrical signals that caused the artificial muscles to contract, mirroring the behavior of the peripheral nervous system. Addition of the excitatory neurotransmitter glutamate caused the spinal cord neurons to fire more rapidly, triggering repeated, rhythmic contractions of the synthetic muscle. 

The biobot could be used to study diseases of the nervous system, such as Lou Gehrig’s disease, also known as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS. Often it is very difficult to study the peripheral nervous system — neurons that extend from the spinal cord out to all your muscles– using the new biobot, or hybrid spinal cord-synthetic muscle systems like it, scientists could closely study nervous system diseases and their effects on tissue in real time.

The modular construction of the platform means that ‘healthy’ tissue can be replaced with tissue derived from models of any neuro-muscular disease or disorder — including myasthenia gravis, ALS and muscular dystrophy and thus, study how the diseased tissue alters development and function at the junction between neurons and muscle. Additionally, hybrid biobots could also be used as surgical training models, allowing medical students to practice surgeries on real biological tissue. Eventually, hybrid biobots could become programmable robotic systems. But while promising, the new biobot is only one very early step in the quest to build sophisticated, life-like robots.

Figure Legend:

A cross-section of a rat’s spinal cord displays the presence of neurons and neuronal stimulation. Image is credited to Collin D. Kaufman.

Below is a list of links from press release for Kaufman et al. (2020) article, DOI: 10.1063/1.5121440

 Original Pieces

UIUC: https://news.illinois.edu/view/6367/808277

 – Liz Touchstone piece

UPI: https://www.upi.com/Science_News/2020/04/29/Scientists-build-biobot-with-a-real-rat-spinal-cord/4221588126697/?rc_fifo=1

 – Brooks Hays piece

Nature Daily Briefing: https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-020-01300-0

AIP spotlight: https://publishing.aip.org/publications/latest-content/rat-spinal-cords-control-neural-function-in-biobots/

MSN Health & Fitness: https://www.msn.com/en-gb/health/medical/robot-with-rats-spinal-cord-could-be-gateway-to-major-medical-advances-say-scientists/ar-BB13ksKg

NeuroCentral: https://www.neuro-central.com/could-biohybrid-robots-be-used-to-study-diseases-of-the-peripheral-nervous-system/

Neuroscience News: https://neurosciencenews.com/rat-spinal-cord-biobots-16266/

New Atlas: https://newatlas.com/science/walking-bio-bots-spinal-cord-tissue/

 – Contacted me through Liz Touchstone early this week (Weds, April 29)

The Engineer: https://www.theengineer.co.uk/spinobots-biological-robots-biobots/

Interesting Engineering (Blog): https://interestingengineering.com/rat-spines-power-robots-with-3d-printed-muscles

BroBible: https://brobible.com/culture/article/robots-3d-printed-skeleton-spines-rats/

Unite.AI: https://www.unite.ai/researchers-develop-tiny-spinobots-with-rat-muscle-and-spinal-cord-tissue/


iNews UK: https://inews.co.uk/news/health/robot-rat-medical-advance-scientists-2553251

Technologik (France): https://technologik.fr/2020/04/29/la-moelle-epiniere-donne-un-rythme-de-marche-aux-bio-robots-technologik/

CitizenSide (France): https://www.citizenside.fr/moelle-epiniere-donne-rythme-marche-bio-robots-sciencedaily/

Meteo Week (Italy): https://www.meteoweek.com/2020/04/28/spinobot-per-studiare-la-sla/

Live Clothes (Iraq): https://livejame.ir/spinal-cord-gives-bio-bots-walking-rhythm/

 – Modified repost of Liz Touchstone’s UIUC piece

Liberal (Greece): https://www.liberal.gr/news/spinobots-biorompot-me-sponduliki-stili-kanoun-ta-prota-tous-bimata/299679

Medico Mundial (Spanish site): https://www.medicomundial.com/news/biobots-walking-rhythm-thanks-new-spinal-cord/


Space Daily: https://www.spacedaily.com/reports/Scientists_build_biobot_with_a_real_rat_spinal_cord_999.html

 – Repost of Brooks Hays UPI piece

ScienceDaily: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2020/04/200428142401.htm

 – Repost of Liz Touchstone UIUC piece

AAAS EurekAlert!: https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2020-04/uoia-scg042820.php

 – Repost of Liz Touchstone UIUC piece