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TINY LIVING ROBOTS MADE OF HUMAN CELLS ARE NOW A THING

In the field of regenerative medicine, a surprising and revolutionary discovery based on human cells is fascinating the scientific community: “antrobots”, living robots

Tiny living robots? It may sound like science fiction but it’s reality. In the field of regenerative medicine, a surprising and revolutionary discovery is fascinating the scientific community: the “antrobots”. These are tiny robots, made up of human cells, that have extraordinary potential in repairing damaged neural tissue. Their name, “antrobot” refers to ants and their tiny size  – the same as these very small robots, which generally does not exceed half a millimetre.

What are “antrobots”

Antrobots are the result of pioneering research in the field of tissue engineering. Made out a few hundred human tracheal cells, the “antrobots” represent a turning point in regenerative medicine: their ability to repair damage to nervous tissues could in fact be the key to tackling a wide range of pathologies. These tiny entities can promote healing and open new perspectives for treating neurological injuries and diseases. A study was recently published in the prestigious scientific journal Advanced Science.

How do they work

Such tiny entities are generated starting from some human cells, the culture of which allows them to develop directional ‘cilia’. These cilia act like oars that allow them to move and organize in very diverse patterns. During the simulations, some traveled in straight lines, others in circles or arcs, while still others moved chaotically, creating a true spectacle of cellular coordination.

An example of antrorobot, with visible eyelashes in yellow (Photo: Gizem Gumuskaya et al., 2023 Advanced Science)

Now: to really get to the point where we will be successfully using the antrobots roperly, these cilia must all beat together in a coordinated way – at presente, not only do the antrobots know how to swim, but they also seem to have distinct forms and modes of behaviour, such as strains or groups within the same species of body. Besides, a real revolution lies in their ability to self-assemble. In fact, antrobots self-assemble in the laboratory. You don’t need tweezers or scalpels to shape them. Shaped together into a “superbot” and placed on a layer of scratched neural tissue, the ants performed a miraculous act: in just three days, the tissue completely healed.

Furthermore, and this is a further reason for satisfaction for the researchers who worked on it, it is possible to use adult cells – even from elderly patients – instead of embryonic cells – also overcoming some ethical objections to the use of human cells.

Antrobots can thus be used to repair significant neurological damage. This all happens without the need for genetic modifications, underlining the extraordinary nature of this repair capacity.

Are they really “robots”?

Some disagree that these spontaneously forming entities can really be considered a kind of “robot,” as they see nothing particularly new or surprising in the idea that cells can form little clumps that can move.

But professor Levin, author of the study publisced in Advanced Science about antrobots, argues that the key here is a shift in perspective. Rather than considering cell clusters as small fragments of tissue that can be used to study human biology, they should be seen as organism-like entities in their own right, with particular shapes and behaviors that can be used as a “biorobotic platform” for applications medical and other, for example by systematically modifying these characteristics to achieve some useful behaviors such as repairing damaged tissues in the body.

Potential applications

Professor Levin and his team are now focussing on studying the therapeutic potential of these revolutionary cellular entities. He reports that antrobots appear capable of inducing a rudimentary form of wound healing in layers of other human cells, which confirms their potential for use in medicine.

In the researchers’ vision, there is a future in which damaged or diseased tissues can be treated and healed thanks to these powerful cellular machines, all without invasive interventions, aggressive drugs and without resorting to genetic manipulation.

Their potential is surprising: imagine anthropobots that clean the arteries, dissolve mucus or distribute drugs exactly where they are needed, without poisoning the body. Furthermore, the combination of different cell types and the exploration of specific stimuli could even lead to the development of biobots, robots made of biological material, with incredible implications, including in sustainable construction and space exploration.

The future lies in “personalized medicine”

The implications of this new scientific frontier go far beyond simple tissue repair and regeneration. The professor. Levin and his colleagues are opening the door to a new era of personalized medicine. This could mean targeted treatments for neurological diseases, spinal injuries and other complex neurological conditions.

Although there is still a long way to go before these “antrobots” can be used in a clinical setting, the progress made so far represents promise for the future of regenerative medicine. Everything is still to be explored, verified and tested but what is opening up seems, at the moment, to be a truly promising possibility.

Are you interested on regenerative medicine? In our blog we offer you updates on the latest discoveries, projects and innovations that are redesigning the future of medicine. Follow us!


 

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