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A team of researchers developed a synthetic stingray that could be used to create artificial hearts. The device is composed of heart cells that are light-activated and could lead the path to futuristic medical interventions.
The mini-robot has a flat body and fins that look like long wings. Just like a stingray, it moves by flapping its fins.
The skin is made out of polymer; the core is built in gold, and it also contains 200,000 heart muscle cells that come from rats. The device respects the definition of a real cyborg, as it is a hybrid of synthetic and biological materials working together like a system.
The artificial stingray is just 10 millimeters long and has a weight of only 10 grams.
The tiny cyborg was built by the bioengineering and applied physics experts from the Harvard University. The leading scientist explains that he got the idea while visiting an aquarium. The movements of a stingray were very similar to the muscular layer of the heart.
The device contains a neutrally charged gold skeleton dressed in a flexible polymer that contains heart cells called cardiomyocytes. After it is exposed to light, the cardiomyocytes caused the fins to contract and to create a downward motion.
The scientists used the gold skeleton to store the downward energy in order to release it afterward when the cells relaxed.
As to the guidance system, the physicists looked again for the inspiration to his daughter, who played with a laser pointer. He started to develop an optogenetic system that would match the engineered stingray.
The microscopic cyborg is thus controlled by pulses of light that activate the cardiomyocytes. The frequency of the light can boost the speed, and the pulses can also modify its direction.
The extraordinary technical discovery is part of a larger study on heart anatomy and its functions.
The scientists observed that marine animals have muscles that are used to move fluid, just like the heart pumps the blood. They hope to use the mechanisms to develop devices that would mimic the function of the heart.
On the other hand, the research could lead to better automated robots. The living muscle cells are more energy efficient than artificial actuators. For example, the stingray is faster than any other man-made systems, and the cells complete complex functions.
The main disadvantage of tissue engineering is the fact that cells are fragile, and they eventually die. However, the potential of the small synthetic stingray is crucial for medicine as it can lead to better devices that could help heart dysfunctions and malformations, and thus save lives.
Image Source: Public Domain Pictures