Mechanotherapy, a new form of medical treatment that applies mechanical stimulation to damaged or diseased tissue, is an attractive therapeutic approach for tissue regeneration and rehabilitation. A common example is massage therapy, where compressive stimulation is applied to the body for muscle relaxation. However, little is known about whether massage can provide therapeutic benefits and the effects of other types of stimulation have not been explored.
Sungmin Nam has recently participated in a study elucidating the therapeutic effect of massage. Using a robotic actuation system that applies precise compressive stimulation, his team has successfully demonstrated that compressive stimulation, or massage, can provide a therapeutic effect in the context of muscle injury. Mechanistically, compressive stimulation modulated the immune response of injured muscles and thereby improved the regeneration process. In addition to this massage-based robotic device, Sungmin has developed a new class of implantable tissue-interfacing medical device capable of securely attaching to a target tissue, and actively generating stretching & contraction stimulation through highly controlled automatic actuation. Interestingly, mechanical stimulation by the device activated mechanosensitive signaling pathways in disused muscles and effectively delayed the occurrence of disuse muscle atrophy. Overall, his research suggests mechanical tissue stimulation as an effective therapeutic approach and paves the way for new designs of medical devices and materials.Sungmin’s vision is to pioneer the next generation of medicine through soft robotics, biomaterials, and mechanical engineering approaches. The development of innovative mechanical actuation systems capable of delivering various modes of stimulation and monitoring tissue response in real time will expand our understanding of mechanical and biological effects during regeneration, and allow for optimal treatment protocols for specific tissues/injuries. Furthermore, along with single-cell resolution analysis of cellular and molecular markers, these multiscale approaches will enable translation of basic research into clinical diagnostics and therapies, and provide mechanistic insight into a wide range of human health problems including regeneration, disease progression, and aging.