Maker Story: Rashid Bashir

Miniature Biological Robots 

Rashid Bashir, dean of The Grainger College of Engineering, has built a career pursuing disruptive research in the field of bioengineering. And, his research has great potential for impact on human health.

In 2012, Rashid, along with other Illinois researchers, developed a miniature biological robot, or a bio-bot, using only hydrogel, heart cells and a 3-D printer. The bio-bots are less than a centimeter long, and surprisingly, able to walk on their own.

However, heart cells beat spontaneously, and are always “on”, which limited the researchers’ ability to speed the bot up or slow it down. As the team enhanced their design, they sought to gain more control of the bio-bots. So, they developed new bio-bots powered by muscle cells and controlled by electric pulses.

The next phase of the bio-bot development moved from controlling the bio-bots with electric pulses, to using a less invasive method.

Electricity can cause adverse side effects to a biological environment and does not allow the researchers to designate which region of the bio-bot muscle they’d like to stimulate. Rashid and his team engineered the bot to move toward light, allowing researchers to better dictate the direction and path of the bio-bots.

Rashid envisions the bio-bots being used for drug screening or chemical analysis, since the bots’ motion can indicate how the cells are responding to the environment. By integrating cells that respond to certain stimuli, such as chemical gradients, the bio-bots could be used as sensors as well.

“We’re trying to integrate these principles of engineering with biology in a way that can be used to design and develop biological machines and systems for environmental and medical applications. Biology is tremendously powerful, and if we can somehow learn to harness its advantages for useful applications, it could bring about a lot of great things,” Rashid said.

Rashid developed these bio-bots in his lab at the Micro and Nanotechnology Laboratory.

For more information, view these original articles from the UI News Bureau.