Nerve cells (colored blue and green in this microscope image) grow along thin grooves of a microrobot that scientists control with magnetic fields.
Tiny robots can operate as nerve cell connectors, bridging gaps between two distinct groups of cells. These microscopic patches may lead to more sophisticated ways to grow networks of nerve cells in the laboratory, and perhaps even illuminate ways to repair severed nerve cells in people, researchers report September 25 in Science Advances.
Engineers Eunhee Kim and Hongsoo Choi, both of the Daegu Gyeongbuk Institute of Science and Technology in South Korea, and colleagues first built rectangular robots that were 300 micrometers long. Slender horizontal grooves, about the width of nerve cells’ tendrils that exchange messages with other cells, lined the top.
These microrobots were fertile ground for rat nerve cells, the researchers found. As the cells grew, their message-sending axons and message-receiving dendrites neatly followed the robots’ lined grooves.