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Tissue Transplant Technology Derived from Octopus Suckers

In recent years, there have been great strides made in tissue-grafting technology. Grafts composed of thin layers of tissue cells are able to mimic the original tissue and facilitate more efficient healing, making them an excellent choice for tissue transplantation.

However, how can you handle something so delicate without damaging it?

The solution lies just below sea level.

Drawing inspiration from the suction cups that line the limbs of cephalopods like octopi and squid, researchers on Hyungjoon Kong’s team at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have developed a new transplant technology that facilitates the handling of delicate tissue grafts. The muscles in an octopus’ suction cups, or “suckers,” quickly contract and relax in response to bioelectric signals, modulating the pressure inside the sucker by changing the volume of space it contains. This sophisticated mechanism allows the octopus to handle different objects in both wet and dry environments, and the same concept can be applied to tissue grafting.

The researchers designed a microchannel-filled hydrogel manipulator that shrinks and expands in response to temperature changes from an attached heater. First, the heater is turned on, which causes the hydrogel microchannels to shrink. Once contact is made between the manipulator and the tissue sheet, the heater is turned off, which causes the hydrogel microchannels to expand, increasing the pressure to pick up the tissue sheet, just like an octopus’ suction cup. Then, the hydrogel is heated again to gently release the tissue sheet onto the target site -- without any damage.

This remarkable technology has exciting implications for tissue transplant surgery and other delicate bioengineering endeavors. The researchers who designed it are hopeful for its potential use in robot-assisted surgery, where it would allow for safer, more effective handling of fragile materials. More information about this research can be found here.


Kim, B. S., Kim, M. K., Cho, Y., Hamed, E. E., Gillette, M. U., Cha, H., … Kong, H. (2020, October 1). Electrothermal soft manipulator enabling safe transport and handling of thin cell/tissue sheets and bioelectronic devices.

ScienceDaily. (2020, October 16). Octopus-inspired sucker transfers thin, delicate tissue grafts and biosensors. ScienceDaily.

Kearney, L., Francis, E. C., & Clover, A. J. (2018, August 20). New technologies in global burn care - a review of recent advances. International journal of burns and trauma.

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