ROBOREACTOR: Robotic bioreactors for the longitudinal control of restorative remodelling in the human skeletal muscle

Muscle damage impairs vital functions e.g., movement, respiration. Recovery depends on the long-term interaction between neuromuscular and immune systems. If exposed to regimens of electro-mechanical stimuli, damaged muscles can remodel new structural properties over days. Inflammation at the damage site is initially needed to clear debris but if prolonged, as in many neuromuscular disorders, it may hamper structural remodeling. Rehabilitation robots such as exoskeletons and neurostimulators can deliver tunable stimuli to muscles. However, although they can compensate for lack of e.g., muscle strength (within seconds), they cannot control for how muscles remodel across days.

ROBOREACTOR shifts the paradigm, to control muscle key inflammation and remodeling factors over large time scales, where the knowledge gap is.

  1. I will develop robots that deliver electro-mechanical stimuli to fibres and innervating spinal neurons in humans across weeks. By combining biosignal processing and modeling, I will predict how robot-stimuli influence key inflammation and remodeling processes in vivo, with cell-scale resolution.
  2. I will engineer human tissues in vitro and develop robots that can expose tissues to the same stimuli experienced by muscles during robotic training in vivo. This will enable modeling subcellular inflammation and remodeling factors, with detail not attained in humans.
  3. I will fit subcellular models in vitro and embed them in multi-scale models built in vivo. This will create new model-based controllers to demonstrate how robots optimize for inflammation to enhance, otherwise hampered remodeling. With a focus on neural and muscular dependences in post-stroke subjects, I propose muscle remodeling as a proxy for neuromuscular repair, a new concept in neurorobotics.

This opens to chronic robotic bioreactors, for maintenance of skeletal, cardiac, tubular organs; revisiting fundamental principles of human-robot interaction with broad impact on health.