Scientists at Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) and Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) say they developed a microrobotic technique to assemble the components of complex materials, which are critical to tissue engineering and 3D printing.

“Our work will revolutionize three-dimensional precise assembly of complex and heterogeneous tissue engineering building blocks and serve to improve complexity and understanding of tissue engineering systems,” said Metin Sitti, Ph.D., professor of mechanical engineering and head of CMU’s nanorobotics lab.

The research study (“Untethered micro-robotic coding of three-dimensional material”), which is published in Nature Communications, describes the use of untethered magnetic microrobotic coding for precise construction of individual cell-encapsulating hydrogels. The microrobot can move one hydrogel at a time to build structures. This is critical in tissue engineering, as human tissue architecture is complex, with different types of cells at various levels and locations. When building these structures, the location of the cells is significant in that it will impact how the structure will ultimately function.

“We describe a method to code complex materials in three-dimensions with tunable structural, morphological, and chemical features using an untethered magnetic microrobot remotely controlled by magnetic fields,” wrote the investigators. “This strategy allows the microrobot to be introduced to arbitrary microfluidic environments for remote two- and three-dimensional manipulation. We demonstrate the coding of soft hydrogels, rigid copper bars, polystyrene beads and silicon chiplets into three-dimensional heterogeneous structures. We also use coded microstructures for bottom-up tissue engineering by generating cell-encapsulating constructs.”

According to Utkan Demirci, Ph.D., associate professor of medicine in the division of biomedical engineering, part of the BWH department of medicine, further benefits from this research may be realized by using numerous microrobots together in bioprinting, the creation of a design that can be utilized by a bioprinter to generate tissue and other complex materials in the laboratory environment.

“We are really just beginning to explore the many possibilities in using this micro-robotic technique to manipulate individual cells or cell-encapsulating building blocks,” noted Dr. Demirci. “This is a very exciting and rapidly evolving field that holds a lot of promise in medicine.”

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