MBM Trainee Collin Kaufman has recently explanted an intact rat’s spinal cord into a biobot with a 3-D muscle system made of engineered tissue. The biological-robot hybrid could pave the way to major medical advances.
“When we looked more deeply at how the neuron-muscle interface developed, we were very excited to observe many similarities between our tissue-engineered spinobot and in vivo development,” Kaufman explained in a recent interview.
After a seven-day culture period, the biological and engineered parts start to work together and motor neurons from the spinal cord begin to produce electrical activity, which in turn contracts the artificial muscles. This replicates the behavior of the peripheral nervous system.
This development could someday lead to better prosthetics or help scientists research diseases such as Lou Gehrig’s Disease.
“The next steps to studying such a disease are surprisingly close,” Kaufman said. “By replacing the muscle, the spinal cord, or any combination of the two tissues with an ALS mutant model, researchers would be able to study how diseased neurons interact with nearby muscles.”
“The future applications of this technology are only beginning to be understood, and we expect many great things from this area in the next few years,” said Martha Gillette, Kaufman’s advisor and Principle Investigator of the MBM Program.
Collin Kaufman published the research in APL Bioengineering as first author with MBM faculty Martha Gillette and Rashid Bashir, and other University of Illinois faculty and students serving as co-authors.