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Researchers develop finger-like robot through rat cell cultivation

A finger-like robot is seen in this photo. The whitish parts represent skeletal muscles and the red parts artificial joints. (Mainichi)

TOKYO -- A group or researchers at the University of Tokyo has announced that it has developed a finger-like robot that can bend and stretch its "fingers" -- a maneuver made possible by integrating artificial resin joints with skeletal muscle tissues made with cultured rat cells.

    The biohybrid robot is expected to be used in the development of artificial hands and legs capable of making more movements like a human as well as the development of medications for diseases linked to bodily movements.

    The research group cultured rat muscle cells arranged in a shape of about 8 millimeters long, 4 millimeters wide and 0.5 millimeters thick. Three of those thin sheets were placed on top of one another to create skeletal muscles, which were then attached to the front and back of an approximately 3-centimeter-long artificial joint.

    When electric currents were passed through the skeletal muscles to stimulate them one at a time, they shrank in turn, allowing the artificial joint to make a 90-degree bend and stretch. The robot was also capable of lifting a ring and carrying it around.

    While the team had announced similar research results in 2014, the latest feat enabled muscle tissues to move for a period of seven days or more by improving the cell cultivation and muscle fixation -- at least five days longer than the previous model.

    "We can expect this finger-like robot to be used in regenerative medicine and pharmaceutical testing in lieu of animals and be applied to the development of robots capable of making softer movements," said Shoji Takeuchi, professor at the University of Tokyo who is versed in mechanical engineering.

    The research results were announced in the U.S. journal "Science Robotics."

    (Japanese original by Yuka Saito, Science & Environment News Department)

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