Muscle-based biohybrid actuators have generated significant interest as the future of biorobotics but so far they move without having much control over their actuation behavior. Integration of microelectrodes into the backbone of these systems may enable guidance during their motion and allow precise control over these actuators with specific activation patterns. Here, we addressed this challenge by developing aligned CNT forest microelectrode arrays and incorporated them into scaffolds for stimulating the cells. Aligned CNTs were successfully embedded into flexible and biocompatible hydrogel exhibiting excellent anisotropic electrical conductivity. Bioactuators were then engineered by culturing cardiomyocytes on the CNT microelectrode-integrated hydrogel constructs. The resulting cardiac tissue showed homogeneous cell organization with improved cell-to-cell coupling and maturation, which was directly related to the contractile force of muscle tissue. This centimeter-scale bioactuator has excellent mechanical integrity, embedded microelectrodes and is capable of spontaneous actuation behavior. Furthermore, we demonstrated that a biohybrid machine can be controlled by an external electrical field provided by the integrated CNT microelectrode arrays. In addition, due to the anisotropic electrical conductivity of the electrodes provided from aligned CNTs, significantly different excitation thresholds were observed in different configurations such as the ones in parallel vs. perpendicular direction to the CNT alignment.
Keywords: Bioactuators; Carbon Nanotubes; Cardiac tissue engineering; Hybrid hydrogels; Microelectrode arrays.