Octopus-inspired sucker transfers thin, delicate tissue grafts, biosensors

CHICAGO (Xinhua) – A new device inspired by an octopus’ sucker can rapidly transfer delicate tissue or electronic sheets to the patient, overcoming a key barrier to clinical application, according to a news release posted on the website of University of Illinois (UI).

In order to seek a way to quickly pick up and release the thin, delicate sheets of cells or electronics without damaging them, researchers at UI, along with collaborators at Purdue University, Chung-Ang University in South Korea, and the Korea Advanced Institute for Science and Technology, turned to the animal kingdom for inspiration.

Seeing the way an octopus or squid can pick up both wet and dry objects of all shapes with small pressure changes in their muscle-powered suction cups, rather than a sticky chemical adhesive, gave the researchers an idea.

They designed a manipulator made of a temperature-responsive layer of soft hydrogel attached to an electric heater. To pick up a thin sheet, the researchers gently heat the hydrogel to shrink it, then press it to the sheet and turn off the heat. The hydrogel expands slightly, creating suction with the soft tissue or flexible electronic film so it can be lifted and transferred.

Then they gently place the thin film on the target and turn the heater back on, shrinking the hydrogel and releasing the sheet.

In the next step, the researchers hope to integrate sensors into the manipulator, to further take advantage of their soft, bio-inspired design.

Current methods of transferring the sheets involve growing them on a temperature-sensitive soft polymer that, once transferred, shrinks and releases the thin film.

This process takes 30-60 minutes to transfer a single sheet, requires skilled technicians and runs the risk of tearing or wrinkling.

The study has been published in the journal Science Advances.