Oxford – A research team from University of Oxford, working with German robotics firm Devanthro, has created a robot shoulder that serves as a stretching mechanism to allow for the growth of human tendon tissue. TPU manufacturer Permali donated Tuftane TPU material to University of Oxford asscociate professor, Pierre-Alexis Mouthuy, for use in the tubular membranes that act as bridges for the tendon tissue.
In recent decades, medical scientists have studied the use of fibroblast cells to cultivate human tissue to replace lost or damaged tissue in patients. But these efforts are still in their formative stages because tendon tissue has proven to be particularly challenging.
In the past, engineered tissues have lacked the elasticity required for human bio-compatibility. Efforts have been made to increase elasticity by constructing devices that stretch and bend tissues as they grow. Unfortunately, these attempts have not produced tissue that can bend, twist and stretch to the degree actual human tissue can. The researchers have taken a new approach with this project: rather than cultivating tendon tissue in boxes, with devices that pull on them, the team grew the tissues in a more human-like way — on a fabricated joint that mimics the movement of a human shoulder.
The researchers modified an open-source robot, developed by Devanthro, by adding a bioreactor and a way of attaching new tissue as it grew. With the bioreactor, and hair-shaped filaments in place on the shoulder of the robot, the team flooded the relevant areas with nutrients to stimulate growth. The cells were then allowed to grow over a two-week period, during which the shoulder was activated for 30 minutes each day, folding, pulling and twisting in a human-like manner.
The researchers studied the resulting tissue at the end of the growing period and found it was different from tissue grown in a static environment. But they still don't know if the tissue is an improvement compared to existing methods. More work is required to determine whether the newly grown tissue could be a close-enough match for use in human patients.