Living robot that swims like fish could help replace human hearts, experts say

A "living robot" that has been built from human cells and can swim like a fish could be a step towards replacing the heart, scientists have claimed.

The robot fish, created by Harvard University, is fitted with a paper spine and plastic fins but is able to move due to the fact that each flank is fitted with human heart-muscle cells.

And just like a human heart, the cells contract rhythmically which causes the tail to be pulled side to side, pushing the fish through the water.

This exciting bioengineering technique could be used to build replica hearts for humans, the lead scientist claims.

Kit Parker of John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences said: "My real interest is in paediatric heart disease.

"Our ultimate goal is to build an artificial heart to replace a malformed heart in a child."

The fish, which has been fitted with the cells responsible for force in the heart, is 1cm long and inspired by the shape and motion of a zebrafish.

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It amazingly has one layer of muscle cells on each side, which are fitted in between layers of a thin film and paper.

The fish swims as the muscles on one side contract, causing the other side to stretch – this then activates a protein inside the cells which makes them contract.

And the cycle continues.

This incredible process, which mimics the process of a human heart, allowed the fish to swim for more than 100 days.

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As the fish is propelled through the water, the cells feed on dissolved sugar in the water.

"The great thing about doing this science is the reaction after you publish it," Parker said.

"The marine biologists write to say, 'Wow, we never realised this about the mechanics of a swimming.' The robotics people write to you and go, 'Wow, that's really clever \u0097 we're gonna try to replicate this in a totally synthetic system.'

"And then there are my cousins, who want to use this as a lure when they go fishing.

"Everybody sees it through a different lens, and that's what makes science so much fun."

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