Robots are an increasing part of our day to day lives. From simple assistants like Siri to complex quadripedal automatons like Spotmini, robotic technology is rapidly becoming common. And although some may seem novelties, a revolution in robotics has been pioneering medical treatments for a while now. And researchers at UW School of Medicine have just taken the next step into a future that seems all too magical. For the first time, robots are growing human tissue that functions just like our own organs. What does this mean for the future? And just how are they doing it?
In a statement released by UWSOM, Professor Benjamin Freedman hailed the new technology as a ‘secret weapon’ in the fight against disease. He and his team utilized pluripotent stem cells to create miniature versions of human organs to test new medicines and disease treatments. These particular types of stem cells are special because they can be influenced to become any type of cell, and as such are already an exciting prospect for degenerative diseases. And although stem cell medicine has been around for a while, its integration with automation makes widespread research all the more likely.
One of the barriers to influencing and maintaining these cells is time, and the other is difficulty. A researcher may take a day to set up an experiment and have to keep a very close eye on things. The spectrum of error is large. But by using a robotic, high precision and automated system, the research team has been able to repeat the process in as little as 20 minutes. Furthermore, since the system cannot ‘get tired’ or ‘lose concentration’ it is able to experiment for as long as necessary, with a level of precision and reliability far beyond human scope. By creating these robot nurseries, Freedman has turned stem cell research into a superhighway.
Mini Organs by Robot
The science is complicated, but essentially tiny versions of human organs are made for experimentation. This allows researchers to test new treatments in a far more realistic and contained setting. And with automation, means that experiments can be done en masse in a short time. As reported by IFL Science in their wonderful article, the team was able to produce ‘diseased’ miniature kidneys, and discover new pathways that could be used to treat human disease. This is just one example of how this technology is already yielding incredible results.
So whats to be excited about? Simply put, by using robotic technology to automate stem cell research we can better understand disease and treat it, and in faster times. In a world with a growing population, efficient and cheap treatment is all the more valuable. Many warn against the use of robotics across different sectors, but this is one clear example of just how useful they can be. Summarising the significance of the new technology humbly, Freedman says;
“The value of this high-throughput platform is that we can now alter our procedure at any point, in many different ways, and quickly see which of these changes produces a better result.”
Are Robots Medicine’s Future?
With robotic technology already commonplace in medicine (i.e in surgery,) and improving every day, there is no doubt that it provides an excellent means of care. Greater accuracy, learning and control are granted to doctors and researchers through the use of adjuvant robotic tools. Freedman’s work is miraculous because it may overturn the major sticking points of one of the worlds most promising research avenues. By speeding up the process and increasing its efficacy, the lag between need and treatment may shrink substantially. So watch this space, because who knows what will come next.
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The opinions expressed in this article are those of Dr Janaway alone and may not represent those of his affiliates. Images courtesy of Flickr.