Robotic Study Could Lead to Quicker Regenerative Medicine Research

The study of robotics has been known to yield benefits for humans in a variety of ways; however, a new research study suggests possible benefits but on a different scale.  Apparently, the University of Washington has revealed that research with robots has produced a way to grow mini-organs thanks to stem cells taken from a human.  This robotic approach might accelerate research in regenerative medicine as well as drug discovery.

Last week, Science News reported that the University of Washington Health Sciences/UW Medicine has created a robotic system that can automate the production of mini-organs that are human that are derived from stem cells.  The capability to mass produce quickly organoids promises to expand how mini-organs might be used in drug discovery as well as in basic research.


The system was tasked in the production of kidney organoids, which included models regarding polycystic kidney disease.  Also, the robots had been programmed to study the organoids they created.

New Weapon in Fighting Disease

Benjamin Freedman is an assistant professor of medicine, Division of Nephrology, at the UW School of Medicine who promises that this advance will greatly increase the use of these mini-organs within basic research and in the discovery of new drugs.  He also stated that this is a new secret weapon in our fight against disease.

This new technique will be described in a report that has already been published in the online journal known as Cell Stem Cell.   The lead authors were research scientists Nelly Cruz and Stefan Czemiecki from the Freedman lab as well as Dr. Jennifer Harder, who is an assistant professor of internal medicine and Division of Nephrology at the University of Michigan School of Medicine; she is known as a specialist in kidney disease.


Why This Approach Differs from Previous Attempts

The study states that the robotic system that the researchers used was to automate the procedure of producing organoids from growing stem cells.  While it is true that similar approaches have gained success with adult stem cells, this report is the first time of automating successfully the manufacture of organoids not by using adult but from pluripotent stem cells.  This type of cell is capable and versatile of transforming into any type of organ.

Freedman pointed out that ordinarily, just setting up an experiment of this magnitude would take a researcher all day, while the robot can do it in 20 minutes.  He added that on top of that, the robot doesn’t get tired and make mistakes.  There’s no question. For repetitive, tedious tasks like this, robots do a better job than humans.

Furthermore, the researchers had the robots trained to analyze and process the organoids that were produced.  Harder, along with her colleagues, were working out of the University of Michigan Kidney Center and utilized a cutting-edge and automated technique known as single cell RNA sequencing; this was used to recognize all the variations of cells discovered in the organoids.


According to Harder, we established that these organoids do resemble developing kidneys, but also that they contain non-kidney cells that had not previously been characterized in these cultures.  Freedman went on to add that these findings give us a better idea of the nature of these organoids and provide a baseline from which we can make improvements.  The value of this high-throughput platform is that we can now alter our procedure at any point, in many different ways, and quickly see which of these changes produces a better result.

Hopefully, further research will produce results that can be used successfully in the fight against disease.