Scientists grew living human skin around a robotic finger

Anoth­er leap in the quest for sci­en­tif­ic and tech­no­log­i­cal advance­ments, sci­en­tists have grown a robot­ic fin­ger coat­ed in liv­ing human skin, sim­i­lar to Arnold Schwarzeneg­ger’s icon­ic cyborg assas­sin.

Accord­ing to the researchers in the Uni­ver­si­ty of Tokyo, the goal of their research is to one day cre­ate robots that resem­ble real peo­ple, but for more altru­is­tic purposes.

Methods scientists use to create living human skin

There are var­i­ous pro­ce­dures for grow­ing liv­ing human skin, includ­ing skin explant, der­mabra­sion, and even skin graft­ing. The first tech­nique involves using the epithe­lial lay­er from a liv­ing human as the source of new skin. This pro­ce­dure, on the oth­er hand, is only viable for small amounts of skin and requires the trans­plan­ta­tion of new skin every time you need it.

The sec­ond method involves grow­ing col­la­gen from an ani­mal’s epi­der­mis and then trans­plant­i­ng it into peo­ple. This method takes much longer because it neces­si­tates the death of an ani­mal, and it can only be used for big­ger tracts of tis­sue. A skin graft is the third approach, which can be utilised for larg­er amounts of skin. The final two approach­es have shown to be the most effec­tive so far, so researchers brought in sam­ples of human skin from patients who had under­gone plas­tic surgery with this in mind.

About this research

Accord­ing to bio­hy­brid engi­neer Sho­ji Takeuchi and his col­leagues, the super real­is­tic-look­ing robots could more seam­less­ly inter­act with humans in med­ical care and ser­vice industries.

The researchers cov­ered the robot­ic dig­it in skin by immers­ing it in a mix­ture of col­la­gen and human skin cells known as der­mal fibrob­lasts. The com­bi­na­tion set­tled into the fin­ger’s der­mis, or base lay­er of skin. They next applied a liq­uid con­tain­ing human ker­atinocyte cells to the fin­ger, form­ing an epi­der­mis (out­er skin lay­er). After two weeks, the skin cov­er­ing the fin­ger mea­sured a few mil­lime­tres thick, which is com­pa­ra­ble to human skin thickness.

The lab-made skin is strong and stretchy enough to endure robot­ic fin­ger bend­ing, and it can even mend itself. Researchers demon­strat­ed this by mak­ing a small cut on the robot­ic fin­ger and cov­er­ing it with a col­la­gen ban­dage. With­in a week, the skin’s fibrob­last cells inte­grat­ed the ban­dage with the rest of the skin.

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In what ways will this be valuable in the future?

To pave the road for ultra­real­is­tic cyborgs, researchers at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Tokyo wrapped this robot­ic fin­ger in liv­ing human skin.

Ritu Raman, an MIT engi­neer who also builds machines with liv­ing com­po­nents, said, “This is very inter­est­ing work and an impor­tant step for­ward in the field”. Bio­log­i­cal mate­ri­als, accord­ing to Engi­neer Raman, are intrigu­ing because they can dynam­i­cal­ly sense and adapt to their sur­round­ings. She’d want to see a future ver­sion of the live robot skin with nerve cells embed­ded in it to make robots more aware of their envi­ron­ment, for example.

How­ev­er, because a robot can’t yet wear this lab-grown skin suit out and about, Raman said the skin-cov­ered robot­ic fin­ger spent the most of its time soak­ing in sug­ar, amino acids, and oth­er sub­stances that skin cells require to thrive. A Ter­mi­na­tor or oth­er cyborg with this skin would need to bathe fre­quent­ly in a nutri­tion­al broth or fol­low some oth­er com­pli­cat­ed skin care regimen.

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