Researchers at Harvard and CalTech have accomplished an amazing breakthrough. They’ve successfully bioengineered a tiny centimeter-sized, artificial ‘jellyfish’ using the heart cells of a rat (which were grown from protein patterns) printed onto a silicone polymer.
When this artificially–mobile, pulsating creature is released into seawater, and jolted with an electric charge, it’s able to swim freely. This natural biological pump is being used to study how muscles function and one day may influence the construction and design of artificial hearts and cardio drug treatments.
Study researcher Kevin Kit Parker, a bioengineer at Harvard University, was looking for a way to answer some of the big questions with regard to how the heart works. He studied the movements of jellyfish — fascinated and compelled by their innate pumping action. Parker had this to say about the project:
“The idea is to look at a muscular pump other than the heart or other muscular organ and see if there are some fundamental similarities, or design principles, that are conserved across them. This study revealed that there are. I thought, ‘I can build this.’”
He and his team have done just that. As his next step, Parker plans to choose another animal that has a more difficult anatomy and create it from scratch as well. He says the next advance is just a year or two down the road.
I say, bravo! This is an amazing time for science at large and, in this case, especially for the field of bioengineering.
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