bots IN BRIEF
30 SERVO 01.2017
Blast from the Past: This "Walking
Machine" at the National Bureau of
Standards tested the wear on shoes
Researchers working to discover more about how smoke impacts people's health have developed an artificial human
lung "airway on a chip" and a smoking robot to carry out
more accurate tests.
The work will help further our understanding of
conditions like Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease
(COPD) — an irreversible inflammatory disease of the lung's
small airways — and will aid with investigations into newer
smoking-related trends like vaping.
"It's like a Gatling gun; a round turret with 10-12
cigarettes mounted in it," is how Dr. Donald Ingber, director
of the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at
Harvard University, described the cigarette-smoking bot. "We
then use an automated car cigarette lighter to touch the
cigarette to light it. The machine puffs the cigarette as a
human would. You can tune its puffing frequency,
intensity, and intervals, and then observe what happens
as the smoke is fed from the machine and passed
through the airspace of the small airway chip."
The lung airway chip technology is just the latest in
a series of "organs-on-chips" — microengineered cell
culture devices that are sweeping the medical research
world. These artificial human organs have previously
included kidneys, intestines, lungs, and placentas, and
allow approximations of specific organs to be created
for testing without requiring potentially harmful studies
on living animals or people.
In the case of the airway on a chip, a hollow
microchannel is lined with living human bronchiolar
epithelium, taken from either healthy individuals or patients
with COPD. As a recent press release about the news stated:
"Cell culture medium is continually flowed through a parallel
running channel separated from the first by a porous
membrane to support the epithelium for up to four weeks,
and to create a so-called air-liquid interface similar to that
present in [the] actual lung airway."
While it's no secret that smoking is bad for you, the new
research can help make more accurate personalized
evaluations about just how bad it is.
"One of the biggest advances is that you can more
accurately answer the question of what smoke does to a
particular patient," Dr. Ingber continued. "We can use the
same patient's chips and see what happens before and after
smoke exposure. Previously, clinical studies on smoke
exposure simply analyzed a certain number of patients who
had a history of smoking and an equal number who didn't.
The problem with this is that you're dealing with different
people with their own histories, home environments, work
environments, and so on. This gives us a much more direct
idea about cause and effect."