Scientists have made a biobot from the living spinal cord of rats and artificial muscles

Researchers at the University of Illinois combined the rat’s intact spinal cord with a tissue three-dimensional muscle system. They describe the new bio-hybrid system in APL Bioengineering from AIP Publishing.

Biological robots or biobots draw inspiration from natural systems by imitating the movements of organisms such as swimming or jumping. Improvements in biobots to better replicate complex motor behaviors can lead to exciting bio-robotics applications that solve real-world problems. However, this requires the creation of bio-hybrid robots – bio-robots consisting of both organic and artificial materials, which is a difficult task.

After cultivating the system for seven days, researchers found that motor neurons in the spinal cord begin to produce electrical activity that causes contraction in artificial muscles, reflecting the behavior of the peripheral nervous system.

“When we looked more deeply at how the interface between neurons and muscles develops, we were very excited to observe a lot in common between our tissue-created spin bot and in vivo development”.

Colleen Kaufman, UIUC Graduate Student in Neurology.

This result indicates that the spinal cord is a viable mechanism for controlling muscle behavior, even when it is removed from the natural environment. Researchers also verified this by varying the concentration of neurotransmitters in the system. When additional neurotransmitters were present, contractions became more structured and consistent, and when they were blocked, twitching decreased.

Since the study of the peripheral nervous system can be very difficult, the ability to observe it from the outside, as demonstrated in this study, can lead to great success in medicine.

One possible example is Lou Gehrig’s disease, also known as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis when the death of neurons leads to a possible loss of motor function. By developing the external peripheral nervous system, researchers can study ALS with ease of access to the affected components in real-time.

“The next steps in studying such a disease are surprisingly close. By replacing a muscle, spinal cord, or any combination of two tissues with a model for an ALS patient, researchers will be able to study how diseased neurons interact with healthy muscles”.

Colleen Kaufman, UIUC Graduate Student in Neurology.

In addition, hybrid biobots can be used as a surgical training aid, which allows medical students to perform practical operations on real biological tissues.

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