Microbot shape change to repair bones

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Researchers at Linköping University in Sweden and Okayama University in Japan developed a microrobot that changes shape so that it can create a bone-like material in the right conditions. The electroactive material responds to low-voltage electric current and changes its volume and shape, allowing researchers to preprogram specific movements and guide the resulting architecture. The technology could be useful in stimulating bone healing, especially in problematic fractures. Researchers predict that the soft material could maneuver on its own in a fracture, expand and then mineralize and harden, providing a scaffold for bone regeneration.

Research to develop biomaterials that can stimulate and facilitate bone growth continues, with non-healing fractures representing a major source of patient morbidity. This last offer is quite sophisticated, although the material will require further development to unlock its full potential. The focus is on the soft connective tissue present in the skull at birth, called the fontanelles, which allows the baby’s head to pass through the birth canal and hardens after birth to form a full-fledged bone.

“We want to use it for applications where materials have to have different properties at different times,” said Edwin Jager, one of the developers of the new technology. “First, the material is soft and flexible, and then it locks in place when it hardens. This material could be used, for example, in complicated bone fractures. It could also be used in microrobots: these soft microrobots could be inject into the body with a thin syringe, and then unfold and develop their own rigid bones. “

The technology consists of a base alginate hydrogel. On the one hand, the researchers created an electroactive polymer that changes its volume when a low voltage is applied, causing the ice to bend in a specific direction. On the other side of the gel, the researchers placed biomolecules of cells involved in bone development. When the biomolecules are in the right environment within the body, they will begin to mineralize and harden, creating a scaffold that will allow additional bone to grow.

Researchers have demonstrated proof of concept by immersing their material in a cell culture medium, which aims to mimic the environment in which cells are found in the body. Calcium and phosphorus within the culture medium stimulated the biomolecules to begin to harden and mineralize.

Researchers hope they can develop the material to the point that it can be successfully maneuvered inside the body to repair fractures. “By controlling how the material rotates, we can make the microrobot move in different ways and also affect how the material unfolds in the broken bones. We can embed these movements in the structure of the material, making complex programs to direct these robots are unnecessary, “Jager said.

Study a Advanced materials: Soft bihybrid actuators of variable rigidity that self-create bone

Via: Linköping University

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