How robots and mini-organs can save real humans

Kidney organoids
This is a bird’s-eye view of a microwell plate containing kidney organoids that were produced from human stem cells by a robotic system. The yellow boxed region is shown at higher magnification to reveal individual organoids. Red, green and yellow colors mark distinct segments of 3-D kidney tissue. (UW Medicine Photo / Freedman Lab)

Good news, everybody: Robots can now create human mini-organs from stem cells. What could possibly go wrong?

The method may sound like a nightmare from HBO’s AI thriller “WestWorld,” but researchers from the University of Washington School of Medicine say it really is good news.

“This is a new ‘secret weapon’ in our fight against disease,” Benjamin Freedman, a medical researcher at the UW Institute for Stem Cell and Regenerative Medicine and the Kidney Research Institute, said in a news release.

The robotic system could accelerate the production and use of organ tissues that don’t have to be cut out of an actual human but are nevertheless suitable for research and drug discovery. The system is described in a study published online today in the journal Cell Stem Cell.

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By Alan Boyle

Mastermind of Cosmic Log, contributing editor at GeekWire, author of "The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference," president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing. Check out "About Alan Boyle" for more fun facts.

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