I think we have firmly established that 3D printing is pretty cool. Likewise, science and its numerous applications is also pretty cool. It stands to reason then that something super cool must result when you combine the two.
Researchers from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have created a robot born out of 3D printing and advanced bio-engineering. The resulting bio-bot is able to move on its own by harnessing the power of rat heart cells. Check it out for yourself:
So, how did they do it? First, the researchers used a 3D printer to create a 7mm asymmetric hydrogel body that features "one, long thin leg resting on a stout supporting leg." The thin leg is covered with rat heart cells, and it moves when those cells beat.
According to Rashid Bashir, the leader of the research team, the idea behind the bio-bot is an attempt to "harness the power of cells and nature to address challenges facing society." He elaborates further by saying that "nature solves a problem in such an elegant way. Can we replicate some of that if we can understand how to put things together with cells?"
The hope is that one day they can train these little bio-bots to react to specific chemical gradients. They would be able to "look for a specific toxin and then try to neutralize it." One potential use of the bio-bot would be for drug screening as it could react to specific chemical compounds only found in specific drugs.
Of course, all of this is in the future and the researchers have only taken the first step. Next on the agenda is to improve the robot's control and function. A future bio-bot may be able to respond to sunlight thanks to the cells that inhabit its frame. Even then, it will still be a while before we have nano-machines floating around in our bloodstreams destroying cancer cells and toxins.
You can read the full results of the researchers study at Scientific Reports.[h/t: psfk]