Skin deep? Robots to wear real human tissue

By Kitty Knowles 2 March 2017
Humanoid robots to grow human skin. Pic: iStock/fotoslaz

Don't shudder - this robot dress-up comes with good reason.

No, this isn’t a sneaky way for robots to trick us ahead of the impending uprising. (No more sci-fi for you).

Robots dressed in human flesh would benefit people who need tissue transplants, Oxford University researchers have said this week.

At present human cells are grown in stationary environments, but moving humanoids could help them develop in a far more healthier way.

How it works

Robots could “wear” tissue grafts before transplantation, researchers Pierre-Alexis Mouthuy and Andrew Carr propose in the latest issue of Science Robotics.

Today sheets of cells are grown in stagnant tanks, but these “fail to mimic the real mechanical environment for cells,” say the scientists.

The resulting tissues aren’t used to moving, stretching and straining, which make them problematic for use by patients.

The Kenshiro robot. Pic:
The Kenshiro robot. Pic:

Bringing Kenshiro to life

Growing muscles and tendons on a humanoid like the University of Tokyo’s Kenshiro robot however, would allow transplants to work because it has “structures, dimensions, and mechanics similar to those of the human body,” say Mouthuy and Carr.

Healthy tissue needed for a hand, could be grown on an actual robotic hand, a leg tendon on a leg.

What’s more this would be a step toward “biohybrid humanoids” – bots of the future whose human muscles, tendons, and skin can self-repair.

3D-printed skin

Dressing up robots in human tissue isn’t the only way scientists are using tech to innovate transplants: medical researchers in Spain are already using patient cells to 3D-print human skin.

The process could transform millions of lives, say scientists from Charles III University of Madrid – in particular the 11m people who become burn victims each year.

Currently when a patient needs a skin graft, they have to grow skin on other parts of their bodies – a process that can take weeks; while so-called ‘bioprinting’ is far more efficient.

Thought skin belonged on the human body? Boy were you wrong.

This is just the beginning.