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Gummy-like robots that could help prevent disease

Scientists have developed microscopic, hydrogel-based muscles that can manipulate and mechanically stimulate biological tissue. These soft, biocompatible robots could be used for targeted therapy and to help diagnose and prevent disease.

Human tissues experience a variety of mechanical stimuli that can affect their ability to carry out their physiological functions, such as protecting organs from injury. The controlled application of such stimuli to living tissues in vivo and in vitro has now proven instrumental to studying the conditions that lead to disease.

At EPFL, Selman Sakar’s research team has developed micromachines able to mechanically stimulate cells and microtissue. These tools, which are powered by cell-sized artificial muscles, can carry out complicated manipulation tasks under physiological conditions on a microscopic scale.

The tools consist of microactuators and soft robotic devices that are wirelessly activated by laser beams. They can also incorporate microfluidic chips, which means they can be used to perform combinatorial tests that involve high-throughput chemical and mechanical stimulation of a variety of biological samples. This research has been published in Lab on a Chip.

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