Glasgow University developing sonic screwdriver

IT SOUNDS like the kind of thing you’d expect Dr Who to spend his time doing - using his sonic screwdriver to repair someone’s damaged nerves.

Glasgow University could soon be developing their own sonic screwdriver. Picture: Adrian Rogers
Glasgow University could soon be developing their own sonic screwdriver. Picture: Adrian Rogers

But now researchers in Glasgow University are developing their own version of the sci-fi device in the hope of fixing patients’ cells.

Patients expecting to be zapped by the “screwdriver” any time soon though may be disappointed. The version being created by the researchers requires cells to be removed from the body to be fixed before being put back - and even this aim is some way off.

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The research, published in the Royal Society of Chemistry’s journal Lab on a Chip, describes how the “heptagon acoustic tweezer” could be used to repair cells using sound waves.

The study involved researchers from across different parts of the university, from the engineering department to biology.

The device allows researchers to manipulate cells into complex assemblies - a so-called “cell tartan”. They were also able to use this technique as a step towards being able to repair nerves.

Dr Mathis Riehle, from the Institute of Molecular Cell and Systems Biology, said the device could be used to make sound waves through liquid, with total control over where these were directed.

“So you can manipulate the cells and push them around or give them a pattern to sit in,” he said.

“The cells we used were cells which work to aid nerve repair. Our aim is to make this 3-D and make strings of cells in a gel-like structure to get them growing and repairing nerves after injuries.”

Dr Riehle said the device looked less like a screwdriver and more like a trough, where the cells were immersed in liquid to be manipulated.

The repaired cells would then be put back in the patient, but the researcher said that it would be “many years away” before the technology was ready.