Electrothermal soft manipulator enabling safe transport and handling of thin cell/tissue sheets and bioelectronic devices

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“Living” cell sheets or bioelectronic chips have great potentials to improve the quality of diagnostics and therapies. However, handling these thin and delicate materials remains a grand challenge because the external force applied for gripping and releasing can easily deform or damage the materials. This study presents a soft manipulator that can manipulate and transport cell/tissue sheets and ultrathin wearable biosensing devices seamlessly by recapitulating how a cephalopod’s suction cup works. The soft manipulator consists of an ultrafast thermo-responsive, microchanneled hydrogel layer with tissue-like softness and an electric heater layer. The electric current to the manipulator drives microchannels of the gel to shrink/expand and results in a pressure change through the microchannels. The manipulator can lift/detach an object within 10 s and can be used repeatedly over 50 times. This soft manipulator would be highly useful for safe and reliable assembly and implantation of therapeutic cell/tissue sheets and biosensing devices.

Chenfei Hu