By studying the behavior of living cells and combining them with synthetic tissue, researchers are creating “biological machines” to deliver drugs more effectively, function as internal diagnostic tools, or serve as contaminant sensors in the field.
This work is facilitated by a multi-institution effort known as the Emergent Behaviors of Integrated Cellular Systems (EBICS), which recently received $25 million in National Science Foundation (NSF) renewal funding for the next five years to build living, multi-cellular machines to solve environmental, health, and security problems.
In biomedical engineering, experts see big research opportunities and some funding challenges. The interdisciplinary work necessary to develop biomedical engineering devices holds great potential for collaborative research, but challenges remain in making the technology available for public use. A panel consisting of Gene Robinson, John Rogers, Todd Coleman, and Rashid Bashir spoke of this and more at an event entitled "Visionary Frontiers at the Convergence of Biology, Medicine and Engineering" held in Washington, D.C.
They’re soft, biocompatible, about 7 millimeters long – and, incredibly, able to walk by themselves. Miniature “bio-bots” developed at the University of Illinois are making tracks in synthetic biology.
Designing non-electronic biological machines has been a riddle that scientists at the interface of biology and engineering have struggled to solve. The walking bio-bots demonstrate the Illinois team’s ability to forward-engineer functional machines using only hydrogel, heart cells and a 3-D printer.