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Real-life sonic screwdriver repairs damaged nerves

A "sonic screwdriver" uses acoustic force to build tartan-patterned tissue with the potential to repair damaged nerves.


It may not make a cool noise, but researchers at the University of Glasgow have developed a method of using a certain type of "sonic screwdriver" to build cell matrices.

The device is actually called a Heptagon Acoustic Tweezer, and it uses resonance in order to manipulate matter. This involves creating a standing wave that can apply physical force. This is not a new technique -- but, by employing acoustic tweezers, which use two standing waves, the team was able to achieve a very fine degree of control using minimal acoustic pressure.

Using this technique, the team was able to manipulate cells into complex patterns that researcher Dr Anne Bernassau, a Lord Kelvin Adam Smith Fellow in Sensor Systems, called a "cell tartan".

This diagram illustrates the "tartan" cell patterning achieved via light phase shift and transducer switching. University of Glasgow

"We have shown that the acoustic tweezer is capable of trapping cells at predetermined positions and, by using the ability to switch phase, and operate different sets of transducers, we can generate complex cellular patterns," the team explained its paper. "Compared to other methods such as laser guided direct writing, the new device has the advantage of being small, electronically controlled, flexible in the patterning and can be easily integrated with standard microscopy equipment."

So far, the technique has only been tested in a lab setting in two dimensions, but those tests demonstrated that the technique works -- and that the cellular matrix continued to grow in the established pattern, even once the acoustic forces had been removed.

The next step is to attempt the technique in three dimensions -- an accomplishment that could enable the creation of a device that could repair nerve damage in living humans.

You can read the full study online in the journal Lab on a Chip.