24 October 2023

Engineers have created a "training mat" for muscle cells

A vibrating platform will help grow artificial muscles for soft robots and test treatments for neuromuscular diseases.

Engineers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have developed a muscle cell training mat that mimics the mechanical effects of physical training. The device will help grow muscles for robots and study musculoskeletal disorders.

The device developed by the engineers resembles a yoga mat: both rubbery and somewhat elastic. "Trainer" for cells is made of hydrogel - a soft jelly-like material in which magnetic microparticles are embedded. 

To activate the gel's mechanical function, the researchers used an external magnet under the mat that moved the microparticles back and forth, rocking the gel and causing the mat to vibrate. They controlled the frequency of the vibrations to mimic the forces that muscles would experience during real exercise.

On the surface of the gel, the scientists grew a layer of muscle cells and activated the movement of the magnet. In a series of experiments, they examined how the cells responded to the "workout" when they were subjected to magnetic vibration. The results show that regular mechanical exercise helps the fibers grow in a given direction. 

These aligned, "trained" fibers can also work or contract in sync. The results show that scientists can use a new exercise gel to influence muscle fiber growth. Using the device, engineers plan to create models of strong, functional muscles that could potentially be used in soft robots and for repairing diseased tissue.
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