In matters of the heart, none can beat the interest of researchers. There is a gaping hole separating the demand and supply of artificial hearts for people with heart diseases. While artificial hearts today beat for an average lifespan of five years, there is a growing demand to enhance the stability of these machines and make them mimic real hearts with greater cognition.
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Harvard University has undertaken one such research with a team led by Professor Kevin Kit Parker. Parker and his team used the heart cells of a rat to power a robotic stingray. This robotic stingray moves using light energy. The team injected living rat heart cells with modified DNA into the muscles of the stingray robot to make it sensitive to light. The results of this study will help the team explore methods to create an artificial heart with living muscle cells and allow the live cells to mimic the organ’s natural movement.
Parker got the idea of using a marine animal such as a stingray to create the artificial organ when he accompanied his daughter to an aquarium. When he noticed that the stingray deftly evaded his daughter’s hand, he understood that the heart does the same when it is exposed to different pressures of blood flow.
Stingray robot – a promising step for synthetic cognition
The stingray robot that the team is experimenting with is a genetically engineered biohybrid that is part robot and part animal. This makes it a unique creature that represents the future of artificial intelligence. The soft-robotic ray has a small 3D-printed elastic body and a gold skeleton that is capable of storing information. Its body is coated with living heart cells that when exposed to light cause the robotic stingray to flap its fins.
This robotic stingray can be controlled through optogenetics and by including a special DNA in the cells to make it more sensitive to light. In short, the Harvard researchers could move the robot’s fins by simply modifying the brightness of a light bulb. In a bid to test its sensitivity to light, the Harvard researchers guided it through an obstacle course 15 times its length using string and weal light pulses.
If the learnings of this research are put into practice, artificial hearts may soon become a breakthrough invention for the world and pave the way for creating more real-like artificial organs.
(Featured image source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/55258922@N00/202763952)