Robots With Living Human Skin

Shoji Takeuchi and colleagues from the Department of Mechano-Informatics and the Graduate School of Information Science and Technology at the University of Tokyo have developed a method for coating a robotic finger with living human skin. Their findings were published in the journal Matter. Scientists believe a new class of skin-covered robots could more effectively interact with their human counterparts.

There are three benefits to using living cells as a coating material for robots. First, by using the same skin material as humans, a more human-like appearance can be achieved. Second, the biological properties of cells can be used to provide robot skin with multimodal and multichannel sensing capabilities, self-repair capabilities, and metabolic capabilities that are difficult to achieve with artificial materials alone. Third, by using biological materials, robots can be made more environmentally friendly,” Takeuchi told Syfy Wire.

To get the skin onto the robotic appendage, scientists submerged it in a combination of collagen and human skin cells. Over time, the mixture attached itself to the finger, creating a first layer of skin. A second liquid containing keratinocyte cells — the dominant cells found in the epidermis — was then applied creating an outer layer. After a couple of weeks, the robotic finger had skin which was comparable in width to our own. Previous studies grew skin-like structures separately and later applied them to a synthetic surface. This new strategy has benefits over previous methods, in that it allows for the application of skin over uneven surfaces.

We found that we could adapt the skin to the curved 3D surface shape by culturing it on site, rather than making it elsewhere and attaching it to the surface. By installing an appropriate anchor structure, the entire surface could be covered,” Takeuchi said.

At present, the skin does not deliver any sensory information to the robot, but the team is working on incorporating a nervous system for just that purpose. The skin also doesn’t include any circulatory system for delivering nutrients to the tissue. As a result, it needed external assistance to acquire nutrients and for the removal of waste products. That means it spent a considerable portion of its time in a bath of sugars and amino acids.

“We are conceiving strategies to build circulatory systems within the skin. Another challenge is to develop more sophisticated skin with skin-specific functions by reproducing various organs in the skin such as sensory neurons, hair follicles, nails, and sweat glands,” Takeuchi explained.

That’s not to say the skin isn’t impressive even as it exists today. The current version was able to stretch with the finger as it bent or straightened and even healed itself after injury. Researchers made a small cut on the surface of the finger and then applied a collagen bandage. The cells of the skin then connected to the bandage and incorporated it into the skin, healing the wound.

Of course, the process will need to be scaled up if researchers hope to cover an entire humanoid robot in convincing human skin. A robot with disconnected pieces of skin might be even more terrifying to its human acquaintances than one with no skin at all. Now, that would be a dystopian nightmare better left to our fictions.

Source: https://www.u-tokyo.ac.jp/

How To Use The Body’s Inbuilt Healing System

Imperial researchers have developed a new bioinspired material that interacts with surrounding tissues to promote healing. Materials are widely used to help heal wounds: Collagen sponges help treat burns and pressure sores, and scaffold-like implants are used to repair broken bones. However, the process of tissue repair changes over time, so scientists are looking to biomaterials that interact with tissues as healing takes place.

Now, Dr Ben Almquist and his team at Imperial College London have created a new molecule that could change the way traditional materials work with the body. Known as traction force-activated payloads (TrAPs), their method lets materials talk to the body’s natural repair systems to drive healing.

CLICK ON THE IMAGE TO ENJOY THE VIDEO

The researchers say incorporating TrAPs into existing medical materials could revolutionise the way injuries are treated.

Our technology could help launch a new generation of materials that actively work with tissues to drive healing,” said Dr Almquist, from mperial’s Department of Bioengineering.
After an injury, cells ‘crawl’ through the collagen ‘scaffolds’ found in wounds, like spiders navigating webs. As they move, they pull on the scaffold, which activates hidden healing proteins that begin to repair injured tissue. The researchers in the study designed TrAPs as a way to recreate this natural healing method. They folded the DNA segments into three-dimensional shapes known as aptamers that cling tightly to proteins. Then, they attached a customisable ‘handle’ that cells can grab onto on one end, before attaching the opposite end to a scaffold such as collagen.
During laboratory testing of their technique, they found that cells pulled on the TrAPs as they crawled through the collagen scaffolds. The researchers tailor TrAPs to release specific therapeutic proteins based on which cells are present at a given point in time.

This is the first time scientists have activated healing proteins using differing cell types in man-made materials. The technique mimics healing methods found in nature. “Creatures from sea sponges to humans use cell movement to activate healing. Our approach mimics this by using the different cell varieties in wounds to drive healing,” explains Dr Almquist.”

This approach is adaptable to different cell types, so could be used in a variety of injuries such as fractured bones, scar tissue after heart attacks, and damaged nerves. New techniques are also desperately needed for patients whose wounds won’t heal despite current interventions, like diabetic foot ulcers, which are the leading cause of non-traumatic lower leg amputationsTrAPs are relatively straightforward to create and are fully man-made, meaning they are easily recreated in different labs and can be scaled up to industrial quantities.

TrAPs could harness the body’s natural healing powers to repair bone

TrAPs provide a flexible method of actively communicating with wounds, as well as key instructions when and where they are needed. This intelligent healing is useful during every phase of the healing process, has the potential to increase the body’s chance to recover, and has far-reaching uses on many different types of wounds. This technology could serve as a conductor of wound repair, orchestrating different cells over time to work together to heal damaged tissues,” said Dr Almquist.

The findings are published in Advanced Materials.

Source: https://www.imperial.ac.uk/