Scientists from Tufts University and the Wyss Institute at Harvard University (USA) have developed small biological robots called Anthropots from human tracheal cells. These multicellular robots, similar in size to a human hair, have the ability to move and have been shown to promote the growth of neurons in damaged areas in a laboratory dish.
The Anthrobots, which range in size from the width of a human hair to the tip of a sharp pencil, are self-assembled and have been shown to have a remarkable effect on the healing of other cells.
This discovery is a starting point for the researchers’ vision of using patient-derived biobots as new therapeutic tools for the regeneration, healing and treatment of diseases.
The work follows previous research in which multicellular biological robots were created from frog embryo cells called Xenobotsable to navigate, collect material, record information, heal wounds, and even copy themselves.
In this study, the researchers discovered that Anthrobots can be created from adult human cells without genetic modification, showing some capabilities beyond those seen in Xenobots.
Loss Anthropots, obtained from human tracheal cells, assembles itself and has the ability to act on a surface of human neurons, promoting the growth of damaged areas. Although it is not clear how they promote the growth of neurons, the researchers confirmed that the neurons grew in the area covered by a group of Anthrobots called “superbot.”
The advantages of using human cells include the possibility of building biobots from the patient’s own cells to use treatments without the risk of triggering an immune response.
The anthropots only last a few weeks before disintegrating, so they can be easily reabsorbed by the body after completing their task. Outside the body, they can only survive under specific laboratory conditions without the risk of exposure or unwanted spread. Besides, they don’t reproduce and nothing genetic edits, which guarantee its safety.
Each Anthrobot begins as a single cell obtained from an adult donor, covered in hair-like projections called cilia. These cilia, which normally help tracheal cells remove particles, are used for cells to make multicellular organoids. After the cilia were encouraged to face the outside of the organoids, the Anthrobots began to move, propelled by the cilia like oars.
The team classified the different types of Anthrobots that had been created, and observed that they grouped into discrete categories of shape and movement, filling an important niche between nanotechnology and larger devices.
Regarding its future applications, the researchers list a few: cleaning plaques in the arteries, repairing damage to the spinal cord or retinal nerves, identifying bacteria or cancer cells, or delivering drug to specific tissues.
In addition, they help to repair tissue and deposit pro-regenerative drugs.
The innate ability of cells to self-assemble and create new structures offers valuable insight into how the body’s natural plans are assembled and how regenerative treatments can restore them.