A human-like robotic system for growing human tendon tissue, which connects muscle to bone, is reported in a Communications Engineering paper. The findings could improve the production and quality of tissue grafts for future use in patients, and support the development of advanced robotic systems.
Human tendon grafts require external forces to stimulate growth and improve functionality. For more than 20 years, robotics has facilitated the growth of engineered tissues in bioreactors using stretching devices, but researchers are still unable to produce fully functional tissue grafts that can be used clinically. Humanoid robots, which mimic human movements and forces more realistically, are now being investigated as a method to improve tissue graft quality, as current stretch bioreactors are still not able to mimic real-life growing conditions or mechanical stress well.
Pierre-Alexis Mouthuy and colleagues designed and demonstrated the combination of a soft and flexible bioreactor chamber with a humanoid robot shoulder joint, which allowed complex motions to be applied directly to the cells. The robot was able to mimic human shoulder movements, and exert realistic stretching forces on the growing tendon cells in the chamber. The authors found that after 14 days, the degree of force exerted by the robot’s movements influenced the growth of the human cells and their gene expression compared to static culture.
This approach could offer new opportunities for developing robotic systems for tissue engineering and improved culture models for future use in human patients. Further research should investigate in more detail the effects of various force loading regimes, scaffold materials and cell types, the authors argue.
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