The ability to handle individual cells and operate on them safely and efficiently is increasingly important in a number of fields such as biotechnology, pharmacology, agriculture, oncology, genetics, neuroscience and embryology. In our ERC-AdG project, we have already demonstrated a micromanipulation system that enables a user to touch, manipulate and assemble individual algae cells and polystyrene beads, almost as naturally as we handle objects in our macroscopic world. To demonstrate the impact of this capability, we start by developing TouchCell, an indispensable tool that targets known challenges within the in-vitro fertilisation (IVF) domain. With TouchCell, users are able to uniquely touch and feel cellular forces through tools in real-time, helping them to perform tasks such as micro-injections, biopsies and tool-to-cell interactions with greater control, ease and efficiency. Further, by using haptic technology and robotic techniques, automation of certain cell manipulation tasks is possible. TouchCell will also be able to capture the mechanical properties of cells at a micron scale thought to be of value. By working closely with IVF experts at UCL, we will establish the technical and economic benefits of using TouchCell within the clinic. Expected outcomes also include a number of commercial milestones such as demonstrations of the TouchCell system to potential customers and manufacturers in addition to new IP. Altogether, these activities will provide an entry point in the broader market of micromanipulation for future commercialisation opportunities.
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