living machines

The Future of Living Machines

Posted By admin / 29th Dec, 2017

We all know medical researchers are amazing. Medical research labs play such a vital role in advancing the life sciences industry. New discoveries are made every day that change what we thought we knew. Funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF), researchers at major engineering schools have joined forces to create a number of rudimentary biological machines that can move, sense input, or both.

These living machines have the power to deliver targeted doses of life-saving drugs by swimming through patients’ blood and seeking out tumors. Through these living machines, engineers are putting cells together in ways nature never has. Where tissue-engineered organs replace and repair damaged organs, living machines are meant to improve on the existing design of organs.

By combining cells in these new ways, scientists can take the best properties of each cell to create something totally new that functions the way researchers decide. Researchers have taken advances in stem cell engineering, bioinformatics, and genetic engineering and expanded on them to create these living machines.

The Microswimmer

One of the first and simplest living machines is the Microswimmer. It was designed by Taher Saif at the University of Illinois and resembles a sperm. This biobot is made of a flexible microfilament string about the size of a human hair with cardiomyocytes (heart muscle cells) clustered at one end. As the cardiomyocytes beat in unison, they bend the string and move the biobot.

This is the type of biobot that may one day be able to detect chemical signals from cancer cells, seek them out, and destroy them by delivering cancer-killing chemicals, or drill through blocked arteries non-invasively.

The Walker

Another scientist participating in NSF’s Emergent Behaviors of Integrated Cellular Systems project, Rashid Bashir (also from the University of Illinois) created a living machine that walks. This biobot is inspired by human joints and consists of two stubby legs and a bridge. It’s created from a 3D-printed skeleton surrounded by a band of skeletal muscle. The team’s latest version of this biobot contains a sensory photoreceptor that allows the biobot to respond to blue light which acts like an on-off switch.

Using biological materials to construct living machines reduces the need for motors that are required for bots made from non-biological materials. The cells self-organize and condense themselves through a process called emergence. As researchers learn more about how cells do this, they will learn how to program them for more specific purposes, opening doors for an entirely new class of patient treatment.

The next step for a future of living machines is creating a biobot that consists of more than one type of cell to create a functional neuromuscular junction. This will be the first biological machine of its kind and it will have the potential for intelligence.

As researchers learn more about these living machines, they will also understand more about how biobots can help advance medical research and save lives. Lifecycle Biotechnologies is proud to support medical research labs around the globe. To learn more about the products and services we provide research labs and companies, contact us today.