Researchers at Purdue University (IN, USA) take one step closer towards the development of inexpensive microrobots that are capable of studying and manipulating cells with the design of a system that senses the minute forces exerted by the robots.
Until now, there was no simple solution to the measurement of the microforces applied to cells by the robots, a capability that is essential to the precise controlling of the microrobots in probing cells. Current methods for measuring the forces applied by microrobots are impractical and expensive, requiring an atomic force microscope or cumbersome sensors with complex designs that are difficult to manufacture.
The team at Purdue University has now developed a vision-based microforce sensor end-effector, which is designed to attach to the microrobot. A camera is then used to measure the probe’s displacement while it pushes against cells, enabling calculation of the applied force. “This is the first device with a truly functional end effector to measure microforces,” commented David Cappelleri, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering at Purdue University and member of the research team.
The group envisages that this novel tool will make it possible to easily measure the ‘micronewtons’ of force applied at the cellular level, in turn enhancing the way in which cells can be probed and manipulated. For example, the forces can be used to transform cells into specific cell lines, including stem cells for research and medical applications. The tool may also be used to study how cells respond to certain medications and to diagnose disease.
The team now intends to scale down the device, which currently measures 700 µ2 (in combination with the microbot), and they are looking towards automating the micorobots.