An array of biological and implantable parts have been 3D printed in recent years, including a rib, thyroid, skull, meniscus, and more. It’s as if we’re collectively participating in a multi-year, global version of Frankenstein. Now, the Smart Nano-Bio-Devices team at the Institute for Bioengineering of Catalonia (IBEC) has 3D printed muscle tissue for soft robotics applications.
“Biologically inspired soft robotic devices belong to a new discipline that can help us overcome the limitations of conventional robotic systems, in areas like flexibility, capacity of reaction and adaptability,” said Samuel Sánchez, chief researcher at IBEC. “We’re exploring the potential of 3D bioprinting to make even better ones because it offers speed, ease of design, shape, and materials customization and scalability options.”
The process involves 3D bioprinting bio-actuators consisting of highly aligned myotubes, which are the multinucleated fibers in skeletal muscles. The muscles were 3D printed around posts that were used to measure the functionality of the muscles, and gene expression was also analyzed to evaluate responses to exercise. “We saw that they are functional and sensitive, and the forces they generate can be modulated in regards to the different needs,” related Tania Patiño, contributing author of the paper. “We now know much more about the fundamental mechanisms behind the adaptability of muscle-based bio-actuators, and that 3D bioprinting is successful as a rapid and cost-effective method for making them.”
Biological muscle tissues have many advantages over fully-synthetic muscle analogues, such as self-organization and healing, biosensing, and adaptability. “We’ve shown that this integration of biological systems into robotic devices provides them with capabilities acquired from natural systems and significantly boosts their performance,” commented Rafael Mestre, lead author of the paper. “It could be the key to being able to develop soft robotic devices able to grasp, walk, or perform other simple actions.”