In vivo tissue regeneration with robotic implants

Sci Robot. 2018 Jan 10;3(14):eaaq0018. doi: 10.1126/scirobotics.aaq0018.


Robots that reside inside the body to restore or enhance biological function have long been a staple of science fiction. Creating such robotic implants poses challenges both in signaling between the implant and the biological host, as well as in implant design. To investigate these challenges, we created a robotic implant to perform in vivo tissue regeneration via mechanostimulation. The robot is designed to induce lengthening of tubular organs, such as the esophagus and intestines, by computer-controlled application of traction forces. Esophageal testing in swine demonstrates that the applied forces can induce cell proliferation and lengthening of the organ without a reduction in diameter, while the animal is awake, mobile, and able to eat normally. Such robots can serve as research tools for studying mechanotransduction-based signaling and can also be used clinically for conditions such as long-gap esophageal atresia and short bowel syndrome.