The image above demonstrates how a micro-robot (black square) can be used to arrange cell blocks (colored shapes) into structures.

Tissue engineering and 3D printing have become vitally important to the future of medicine for many reasons. The shortage of available organs for transplantation, for example, leaves many patients on lengthy waiting lists for life-saving treatment. Being able to engineer organs using a patient’s own cells can not only alleviate this shortage, but also address issues related to rejection of donated organs.

Developing therapies and testing drugs is another challenge for many researchers, as current models have limitations in reliability and predictability. “Tissue engineering provides a more practical means for researchers to study cell behavior, like cancer cell resistance to therapy, and test new drugs or combinations of drugs to treat many diseases,” explains Dr. Savas Tasoglu, research fellow in the Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) Division of Renal Medicine.

In order to address current limitations in tissue engineering and 3D printing technology, Dr. Tasoglu and Dr. Utkan Demirci, a researcher in the BWH Division of Biomedical Engineering, collaborated with researchers at Carnegie Mellon University to develop a unique micro-robotic technique. Described in Nature Communications, the approach uses tiny robots that are remotely controlled by magnetic fields to assemble cell blocks (called hydrogels), one at a time, to build structures.

Being able to move these individual hydrogels 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 very significant in that it will impact how the structure will ultimately function.

“This is a very exciting and rapidly evolving field that holds a lot of promise in medicine with broad applications in 3D cancer models, tissue engineering, and regenerative medicine,” says Dr. Demirci.

– Jessica F.


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