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Nov 06, 2016 08:59 AM EST

Harvard's Smoking Robot Is Much Cooler Than Lab Rats

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Scientists have been very successful in creating different kind of robots that do specific tasks deemed too dangerous for man, such as exploring Mars or diving into the depths of the sea. Recently, a team of scientists has created another robot that will only do one thing - smoke as many cigarettes it can handle daily.

The robot accomplishes two things for the university. First, it makes the research more humane compared to using lab rats and forcing them to smoke to their death. Second, it will help Harvard's Wyss Institute in solving the mystery behind the disease that has plagued smokers - chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

The chronic obstructive pulmonary disease is a progressive disease which is the third cause of death in the United States. The major cause of COPD is smoking but dust and chemical fumes can also contribute to this. It is characterized by coughing, chest tightness, and other lung infections. A lot of people might not even know that they have the disease.

In order to see how the lung works, Harvard built the robot and equipped with tubes that act as lungs. There are also chips filled with lung cells from people. One chip was filled with lung cells from a healthy person while the other is filled with cells from someone suffering from COPD. The scientists want to see how each will react to smoke.

The robot is also fitted with a mechanism similar to a gatling gun arrangement and loaded it with 12 cigarettes. Each cigarette is lighted up and the machine huffs in various levels of intensities and frequencies.

As the robot 'inhales,' the smoke passes through its 'airways' and the chips. As the smoke passes through them, the chips produce mucus and cilia, hairlike structures that carry the mucus around.

The experiment revealed that those who have COPD experience more inflammatory response to the cigarette smoke. Moreover, the cilia inside the 'lungs' of the COPD patient begin to beat at irregular movements and distorted motion when filled with cigarette smoke. When this happens, the cilia cannot thoroughly remove the mucus from the lungs.

This gives insight to scientists and medical practitioners that the key to treating COPD might be in the cilia. Further studies are needed to confirm this and with that, the smoking robot will have very busy smoking days ahead of it.

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