To create the robot, which measures 16 millimeters in length, Dr. Parker’s team layered heart cells from rats onto a gold and silicone scaffold that they designed to resemble a stingray. They then injected a gene into the cells that caused them to contract when exposed to blue light.
The new artificial stingray advances the nascent field of “biohybrid” robotics, which integrates mechanical engineering with genetic and tissue engineering, said Rashid Bashir, a professor of bioengineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Earlier this spring, his research group built a similar light-controlled robot that crawls rather than swims.
Among other applications, this work could lead to the development of robots that aid in environmental cleanups or cargo transport, added Dr. Bashir, who was not involved in building the stingray robot.
Dr. Parker, meanwhile, is most interested in what the robot can teach him about the human heart.
By studying how rat heart cells work together to propel the robot forward, he hopes to gain insight into how heart cells communicate with each other and generate force.
He also plans to apply this research to the development of a light-activated pacemaker, which would involve injecting the light-sensitive gene into heart tissue so the organ can be controlled with pulses of light.
Using light to pace the heart would “be a change for the whole medical device industry,” he said.
source - nytimes.com
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