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Tiny Robots Might Be Used to Repair Severed Nerve Cells

 A team of researchers affiliated with various South Korean institutions have created microrobots that would be able to serve as bridge-builders between rat nerve cell networks. In their paper published in the journal Science Advances, the researchers have explained how they constructed the microrobots and how they served as a bridge-builder between neural networks.
According to the authors of the study, these tiny robots can function as nerve cell connectors and join gaps between two different groups of cells. The group believes that these microscopic patches may result in more advanced ways to grow networks of nerve cells in the laboratory. More importantly, however, they may even illustrate ways to repair severed nerve cells in people.
Microrobots, illustation

What is the study about?

Over the years, scientists have attempted different ways to study the brain. One of the approaches has been to try to grow a brain from nerve cells. Previous work has demonstrated that growing a network of neural cells on a glass plate is possible. However, that network is two-dimensional. In this new approach, though, the researchers have taken a step towards creating a three-dimensional neural network by designing a way to connect two-dimensional networks using microrobots.
Engineers Eunhee Kim and Hongsoo Choi, both of the Daegu Gyeongbuk Institute of Science and Technology in South Korea, along with their colleagues, first built rectangular robots that were 300 micrometers long and 95 micrometers wide out of a polymer-coated with nickel and titanium. The microrobots’ movement was controlled by applying external magnetic fields.
Microrobots, nerve cells
The researchers found that these microrobots were productive grounds for rat nerve cells. Once the cells began to grow, their message-sending axons and message-receiving dendrites deftly followed the lined grooves of the robots. Next, the team grew another neural network on the surface of the microrobot. After all the networks had grown and were in place the researchers used a steadier magnetic field to the robot to drive it into place between the other two neural networks.
They found that the nerve cells on the microrobot grew out toward the clusters and the cells in the clusters grew onto the bot. Over a short period of time, a bridge was formed between the two original neural networks. Furthermore, electrodes revealed that these new connections enabled neural signals to flow from one bunch of nerve cells to another.

How can these neural bridges be useful for humans?

The team has said that with the help of these neural bridges, they can design improved replicas of intricate nerve cell networks in the brain. More importantly, this could result in repairing nerves in injured patients.
Microrobots, brain
“The proposed microrobot and its application could act as a fundamental in-vitro system capable of the targeted neuronal cell delivery and the formation of an active neural network and, thus, facilitate the study of neural networks and neural connectivity to gain a better understanding of brain function, especially for in-vitro study,” the team concluded in their research paper. 
If this approach does prove to be successful, then identical systems can also be used to find new ways of studying nerve cell growth. It could lead to revolutionary therapies for people with nerve injuries. We will now have to wait and watch if scientists can indeed use the proposed microrobot and apply it for desired results in the future.
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