Researchers Use Human Cardiac Cells To Create Biohybrid Fish

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Harvard Research scientists from Harvard, in conjunction with Emory University colleagues, have created the world’s first completely autonomous biohybrid fish using cardiac muscle cells generated from human stem cells. The mechanical fish swims by simulating the muscle contractions of a beating heart, advancing scientists closer to producing a more complicated artificial muscular pump and giving a platform for studying heart problems such as arrhythmia. The study was published in the journal Science.

The team’s biohybrid fish draws on prior work from Parker’s Disease Biophysics Group. In 2012, the group constructed a jellyfish-like biomimetic pump using rat cardiac muscle cells, and then in 2016, the scientists created swimming, manufactured stingray using rat heart muscle cells.

How did they create it?

The researchers developed the first autonomous biohybrid gadget using cardiomyocytes produced from human stem cells in this study. This invention was influenced by the zebrafish’s form and swimming movement. Unlike earlier devices, the biohybrid zebrafish’s tail fin comprises 2 levels of muscle cells, one on either side. One side tightens, while the other side expands. This stretch activates a mechanosensitive protein channel, that results in contraction, which results in another stretch, and so on, creating a closed-loop mechanism capable of propelling the fish for over 100 days.

Additionally, the researchers developed an independent pacing node similar to a pacemaker that regulates the intensity and frequency of these involuntary contractions. The two muscle levels and the independent pacing node worked in conjunction to generate continuous, impulsive, and synchronized back-and-forth fin motions.

Unlike aquarium fish, this biohybrid fish develops with age. For the very first month, the intensity of its muscular contractions, maximal swimming speed, and muscle control all improved as the cardiomyocyte cells developed. Ultimately, the biohybrid fish acquired speeds and swimming abilities comparable to wild zebrafish.