Savas Tasoglu, PhD, MS

Researchers at BWH and Carnegie Mellon University have introduced a unique micro-robotic technique to assemble the components of complex materials, the foundation of tissue engineering and 3D printing.

The research was conducted by Savas Tasoglu, PhD, MS, research fellow in the BWH Division of Renal Medicine, and Utkan Demirci, PhD, MS, associate professor of Medicine in the Division of Biomedical Engineering, part of the BWH Department of Medicine, in collaboration with Carnegie Mellon’s Eric Diller, PhD, MS, and professor Metin Sitti, PhD, MS, both in the Department of Mechanical Engineering.

Utkan Demirci, PhD, MS

Utkan Demirci, PhD, MS

The presented approach uses untethered magnetic micro-robotic coding for precise construction of individual cell-encapsulating hydrogels (such as cell blocks). The micro-robot, which is remotely controlled by magnetic fields, can move one hydrogel at a time to build structures. This 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 significant in that it will impact how the structure will ultimately function. The researchers also demonstrated that micro-robotic construction of cell-encapsulating hydrogels can be performed without affecting cell vitality and proliferation. Further benefits may be realized by using numerous micro-robots together in bioprinting, the creation of a design that can be utilized by a bioprinter to generate tissue and other complex materials in the laboratory environment.

“This technology enables surgical precision to create cellular 3D constructs,” said Tasoglu.

Added Demirci: “We are really just beginning to explore the many possibilities in using this micro-robotic technique to manipulate individual cells or cell-encapsulating building blocks. This is a very exciting and rapidly evolving field that holds a lot of promise in medicine.”

The study was published in the Jan. 28, 2014, issue of Nature Communications.