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  • Project No: 2023 iCase 4
  • Intake: iCase 2023

Overview 

Skeletal muscle is the largest organ system in the body by mass and is necessary to generate forces for movement and locomotion. Unlike tendons and ligaments, muscle tissue can easily regenerate itself when subject to minor injuries. However, irreversible loss of muscle tissue can be caused by severe conditions such as myopathy, large trauma (e.g. blast injuries) and removal of cancer tissue. Failure of repair can result atrophy of muscle fibers, fibrosis, and fatty accumulation within and around the muscles

Tissue engineering is a promising repair strategy for skeletal muscle that involves the use of biomaterials, cells and bioreactor systems, which able to control culture conditions and provide physical stimulation to the cell-material constructs. Both mechanical and electrical are relevant to muscle tissue engineering and have been shown to improve the improve cell proliferation and differentiation. 

Our research group has recently developed a unique bioreactor system that uses a musculoskeletal (MSK) humanoid robotic arm to mimic the motion and forces observed at the human shoulder joint and actuate cell-materials samples (EPSRC-funded Humanoid Bioreactor project, EP/S003509/1)[1]. MSK humanoids aim to replicate the inner structures (muscles, tendons and bones) and the biomechanics of the human body using strings actuated by electric motors. While our efforts have so far been focused on tendon tissue engineering for rotator cuff repair applications, the same humanoid bioreactor system could be applied to engineer skeletal muscle.

This PhD project will focus on applying the humanoid bioreactor system for skeletal muscle tissue engineering. This is a highly multidisciplinary project that involved various aspects of bioengineering, biology, bioelectronics and biomechanics. Although the end application proposed here is to support the regeneration of large muscle defects, a potential outcome of the project is the generation of a new range of bio-actuators, which would benefit developments in bio-robotics and soft robotics. 

 

Role of the commercial partner 

Devanthro (Munich) will train the student to use and troubleshoot the humanoid robotic hardware and software (Roboy project). It will support the student in adapting the robot’s controller to the project’s specifical requirements. Devanthro will provide the manufacturing ressources and workshop to make any hardware modification.
A 3-month internship will be carried out at the beginning of the project. The student will also have the opportunity to complete another 3-month visit during their PhD such as to demonstrate how their findings could be useful to the development of biohybrid robots. 

 

Training and support available

The student will receive direct supervision from the PI and will be supported by his team and collaborators, in particual those involved in the EPSRC-funded Humanoid Bioreactor project. The student will be co-supervised by Prof Snelling (soft tissue biology expertise)  and Prof Maiolino (soft robotics expertise). The student will be encouraged to participate to research training activities provided by NDORMS (e.g. introductory DPhil lectures and workshop) and the university.

Devanthro will provide support in mechanical, electrical and control engineering and training for the robotic system, and tools in the workshop (3D printing, laser cutting, etc.).