Researchers at Tufts University and Harvard University’s Wyss Institute have achieved a groundbreaking feat by creating tiny biological robots called Anthrobots from human tracheal cells. These minute robots, measuring from the width of a human hair to the point of a sharpened pencil, have shown the ability to promote the growth of neurons in a lab dish.
This discovery marks a significant milestone in utilizing patient-derived biobots as therapeutic tools for regeneration, healing, and disease treatment. While the researchers had previously developed multicellular biological robots, known as Xenobots, from frog embryo cells, they desired to explore the possibility of constructing biobots from cells of various species. The Anthrobots, which can be formed from adult human cells without genetic modification, exhibit capabilities beyond those observed with Xenobots.
The researchers gave human tracheal cells the opportunity to generate new structures and perform tasks. The results were astonishing, as the cells were able to create novel multicellular shapes and move across a surface of human neurons, stimulating growth. However, the exact mechanism by which Anthrobots promote neuron growth remains unclear.
One of the advantages of using human cells is the ability to construct these bots from a patient’s own cells, thereby eliminating the risk of triggering an immune response. Moreover, the lifespan of Anthrobots is limited to a few weeks before they naturally disintegrate and are re-absorbed into the body. This feature enhances their safety and eliminates the need for complex removal procedures.
Additionally, Anthrobots can only survive in specific laboratory conditions and are unable to reproduce, minimizing the risk of unintended spread or exposure outside of controlled environments. Each Anthrobot originates from a single cell derived from an adult donor. These cells are sourced from the trachea and are equipped with cilia, which aid in their movement.
Anthrobots exhibit a diverse range of shapes, sizes, and types of movement. They can range from spherical with complete cilia coverage to irregular or football-shaped with patchy cilia distribution. Interestingly, these tiny robots have demonstrated healing abilities, as they have been instrumental in promoting significant regrowth of neurons when tested on simulated wounds in a lab dish.
The potential applications of Anthrobots are immense. Their further development could lead to groundbreaking advancements such as clearing plaque buildup, repairing spinal cord or retinal nerve damage, identifying bacteria or cancer cells, and delivering targeted drug therapies to specific tissues. Furthermore, the process of cellular assembly utilized in constructing these bots can provide valuable insights into how natural body plans assemble and restore themselves through regenerative treatments.
The development of Anthrobots represents a remarkable fusion of biology and technology. As this field progresses, it holds the promise of revolutionizing the world of medicine and offering innovative solutions for a wide range of ailments and conditions that have long plagued humanity.
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