When robots become chain-smokers

Chain-smoking robot. The gatling gun-style holding the cigarettes. Credit: Harvard Wyss Institute

You would not expect a robot to smoke cigarettes, even less to become a chain-smoker.  And yet, this is what is happening at Harvard Wyss Institute. 

Actually, the blame is on a research team that is using a robot to learn more on the effect of smoking on pulmonary diseases.  They have  equipped the robot with a lung-on-a-chip and instructed the robot to chain-smoke cigarettes as they observe the effect smoke has on the lung.

The lung on a chip replicates the airways and the epithelial cells covering the alveoli. The researchers are using two chips, one loaded with normal lung cells, the other with cells from a patient suffering with lung chronic obstruction disease.  

A disc in front of the robot “mouth”  is loaded with 12 cigarettes that the robot light up in sequence (it is a chain-smoker, remember?) and breath at a frequency and intensity that is programmed by the researchers. The lung-on-a-chip is transparent and that let’s researchers observe the cells, and the vibrating cilia, throughout the experiment.

This robot is replacing mice that were forced to breath the smoke and whose lungs were then tested for cells anomalies.  
 Using a robot is much better, my sympathy is all for the mice. Besides, the testing is more accurate, since it is performed on human cells, and the system mimics much better the way humans breath (mice breath through their nose only….).

The “organ-on-a-chip” is an evolution in medicine that is making progress faster and that will become widespread by the end of this decade. Coupled with robots it gets even better.

Author - Roberto Saracco

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