Fun Finds Friday: Robotic Fish & Human Hearts

[dot_recommends] February 18, 2022 Uncategorized

The Surprising Connection Between Human Heart Repair Research and Robotic Fish

synthetic fish powered by human heart cells image by Michael Rosnach, Keel Yong Lee, Sung-Jin Park, Kevin Kit Parker

 

A team of scientists have built robotic fish that are advancing heart disease treatment research. The school of robotic fish swam for three months powered only by lab-grown heart cells and nutrition added to the water.

Why Power Robotic Fish With Heart Cells?

In short, the scientists — based at Harvard, Emory University, and Georgia Tech — built the fish to save lives.

“Ultimately, I want to build a heart for a sick kid,” said Kit Parker, Harvard professor of bioengineers and physics in an interview with NPR.

The body cannot replace heart cells or make new heart cells. So, being able to replace damaged heart cells with lab-grown heart tissue would save many lives.

Lab-Grown Heart Cells Do What All Heart Cells Do

The heart muscle cells on the robotic fish do what all heart muscle cells do:

  • Repeatedly and rhythmically contract
  • Rebuild the cells every 20 days or so to keep them healthy
  • Get stronger with use

 

What Are Robotic Fish Made Of?

The fish, known as “biohybrids” contain living and non-living parts.

  • Paper
  • Plastic
  • Gelatin
  • Two strips of living, lab-grown, heart muscle cells

 

How Do the Cells Make the Fish Swim?

The contracting muscle strip along one side causes the robotic fish tail to pull to the side. This tail motion propels the fish through the water.

The tail motion also stretches the muscle strip on the opposite side, thereby signaling it to contract. That moves the tail in the other direction.

In this way, the fish continually swim through the water.

 

Hope for the Future

Researchers already knew how to grow heart cells in the lab. What’s new here is that they have now proven lab-grown heart cells can maintain a rhythm over time. This opens up many more opportunities!

You can watch a video of the robotic fish swimming at NPR.

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–parin
Managing Partner

 

Image source: Michael Rosnach, Keel Yong Lee, Sung-Jin Park, Kevin Kit Parker via NPR

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