Robots are now growing organs from stem cells in what is the latest breakthrough in the application of the technology in the medical field.
There have been a wide variety of applications of robots in healthcare, including robotic surgery for complicated operations and DNA nanorobots that can be programmed to kill tumors. The ability to create lab-grown organs from stem cells, however, may be the most important use of robots in medicine so far.
Scientists Use Robots To Grow Organs From Stem Cells
A new study, published by scientists from the School of Medicine of the University of Washington in Seattle, revealed an automated system that uses robots to rapidly grow human mini-organs from stem cells.
Growing human organs from stem cells is not new technology, but previously, scientists would culture the cells into flat 2D sheets. The grown organs were too simplistic to copy how the true cells behaved, though. More recently, scientists have found success in growing the cells into more complex 3D structures called mini-organs. These mini-organs, also known as organoids, behave similarly to real organs in many ways.
However, setting up an experiment to grow these mini-organs usually takes a researcher all day, according to the University of Washington's Benjamin Freedman. Robots, on the other hand, are able to do it in 20 minutes.
"On top of that, the robot doesn't get tired and make mistakes. There's no question — for repetitive, tedious tasks like this, robots do a better job than humans," said Freedman.
Robots: The New 'Secret Weapon' Against Disease
Researchers have automated the procedure for growing organoids from stem cells. The liquid-handling robots introduced the stem cells into plates and, over 21 days, coaxed them to grow into kidney organoids. The researchers also trained the robots to process and analyze the mini-organs that they produced so that the scientists will know if any improvements were needed for the specimens.
The information that the robots acquired were immediately put to good use. The scientists tasked the robots to create mini-organs with mutations that result in polycystic kidney disease, which often results in kidney failure. Because the robots were able to grow a large number of specimens, the scientists had enough to work with when tweaking several factors, leading to the discovery that the cysts were caused by the myosin inhibitor named blebbistatin.
This automated process, as demonstrated, is the new "secret weapon" against disease, said Freedman. If the research goes according to plan, the process may even lead to significant developments in organ replacements.