Biological machines are cellular devices designed to perform various functions such as protein expression, sensing, transport, information processing and actuation in a micro-environment. Also known as cellular systems, biological machines are used as tools for biological repair, implants for drug release, synthesis and sensing and also as organ mimics for drug testing. Rapid convergence of engineering and biotechnology is assisting in the development of biological machines. The biological machines market is in its developing phase characterized by under research and development technologies.
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A number of universities and research organizations are involved in the research and development activities for biological machines. For instance, bioengineers at the University of Illinois are trying to print biobots using 3D printers. The bioengineering department of the university currently aims to develop biological materials that can perform certain biological repair tasks. They have managed to print biobots from a combination of muscle cells and gel, which is a stepping stone towards one day printing of functional organs for implantation. Funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF), the research team at the University of Illinois will be developing simple biological materials using muscle cells and then proceed to genetically engineer cells that respond to light in predictable ways, allowing the creation of controllable biobots.
This research is being performed at the NSF Science and Technology Center in the U.S., with other research partners at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), the Georgia Institute of Technology and minority-serving partners at City College of New York, Morehouse College (Atlanta, U.S.) and University of California at Merced (UCM). The NSF had granted USD 25 million in 2010, for a five-year term to establish the Emergent Behaviors of Integrated Cellular Systems Center (EBICS) each at MIT, University of Illinois and the Georgia Institute of Technology.
Besides healthcare, biological machines find applications in other aspects that potentially effect health. Researchers from the Imperial College London have demonstrated a way of developing a new type of biological wire using proteins, which interacts with DNA and act as wires in an electrical circuitry. This new wire has the capability of being re-engineered over and again to create billions of connections between DNA components. Re-wiring of DNA in yeast can aid in performing various tasks such as detecting contaminants in water supplies and recording environmental conditions in the production of biofuels.
Once successful, new organs can be designed and implanted using biological robots which have the ability to sense drug or glucose levels in the blood stream and respond accordingly by stimulating or inhibiting the secretion. Biorobots can be used to perform nanoscale tasks inside the human body. Retinal implants, sensory systems, cortical implants, auditory system, nanotube electrodes and other such products can be developed using biological machine technology. Principles of cellular systems are applied to develop these biological machines i.e. implants and nanoscale products that can perform small tasks in the human body.
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Being at its nascent stage, the biological machines market is profound in the developed countries of North America and Europe. Approval of biological machines by the FDA and other regulatory authorities will require additional time as these machines directly react with the biological systems. The market for biological machines in the developing regions is still far from development owing to slower rate of acceptance and lack of advanced healthcare infrastructure.