Design Engineering

U of T to develop AI-powered microrobots to capture brain cells

By DE Staff   

General Medical

Project to receive $1M from joint Canada-UK AI funding initiative.

Optoelectronic microrobots designed by U of T researchers Shuailong Zhang and Aaron Wheeler can load, transport and deliver cellular material (photo courtesy of Shuailong Zhang)

The University of Toronto announced that two researchers in its Donnelly Centre for Cellular and Biomolecular Research will receive more than $1 million from the Canada-UK Artificial Intelligence Initiative to develop microscopic robots that can differentiate and capture stem cells from brain tissue.

In partnership with Mike Shaw, a machine learning expert at University College London, U of T’s Aaron Wheeler and Cindi Morshead say the funding and collaboration will allow them to move their existing technology forward.

At present, the U of T researchers say their microrobots can capture and move cells in a lab dish. The next step, they say, will entail training AI and image-recognition algorithms to distinguish stem cells based on microscopy images of brain tissue. Those systems would then be able to direct the cog-like robots to capture the relevant cells.

The hope is that such a system could reliably and autonomously harvest homogeneous batches of brain stem cells, which can transform into specialized brain cells, and allow for development of new treatments for brain injury, like stroke. According stem cell scientist Morshead, her team’s work has already shown that brain stem cells can be directed to repair stroke injury in mice.


“In the long term, we would like to have one platform that can start with a slab of tissue and go to collecting the cells of interest,” said Wheeler. “We will end up with a tool that’s useful for lots of folks in the life sciences who are trying to streamline and reproducibly collect interesting cells for further analysis.”

Wheeler and Morshead are one of 10 international teams sharing the approximately $5 million and £5 million provided by the Canada-UK Artificial Intelligence Initiative over the next three years. The initiative seeks to harness AI for societal benefit by bringing together experts from diverse disciplines.


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