‘Biohybrid’ fish built to test synthetic heart cells (VIDEO) — Analysis

Harvard and Emory University in the US created a bionic fishing vessel from two sets lab-grown heart muscle cells. Each set is used for one side of the flexible tail. When one set of cells contracts, the tail is pulled in one direction, and vice versa for the other set of cells, triggered by the opening of “mechanosensitive protein channels” and a pacemaker-like device that regulates the speed of the contractions.

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A video posted to one of Harvard’s YouTube channels on Wednesday shows the “Biohybrid fully independent fish” in action. The accompanying text explains that engineering tiny fishbots was not an end in itself, but a proof of concept for the next step in eventually developing an artificial human heart.

Equipped with only the most basic equipment, the miniature devices – whose movements were inspired by the zebrafish species – were able to swim for over 100 days and actually got better at the motions the longer they swam, the developers said. Researchers noted that, by the end of the device’s life span, it was moving at a speed similar to that of a real (not bionic) zebrafish.

Scientists from the team published their research in Science. They say that this success in fish allows them to create a much more sophisticated artificial heart. It also permits researchers to investigate the mechanism of arrhythmia, as well as the building of longer-lasting models.

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