Artificial stingray powered by rat's muscles, may lead to better artificial heart
DATE IMPORTED:May 09, 2011A rat brain sample is placed into liquid for an experiment in a lab of the Blue Brain Project at the Brain Mind Institute of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (EPFL) in Ecublens, near Lausanne May 9, 2011. If selected from amongst six other candidates by the Future and Emerging Technologies (FET) Flagship Program launched by the European Commission, the Blue Brain Project will upgrade to become the Human Brain Project and will receive funding up to 100 million euros a year for 10 years. The final decision will take place in April 2012. Reuters/Denis Balibouse

Researchers at Harvard’s Wyss Institute have created an artificial stingray that is powered by reconstructed rat muscles, which could pave the way for a better artificial heart.

National Public Radio reports that researchers believe it is possible to build an artificial heart using the same techniques they did in building the rat muscle to make the artificial stingray move.

"I want to build an artificial heart, but you're not going to go from zero to a whole heart overnight," says Kit Parker, a bioengineer, and physicist at Harvard University's Wyss Institute. "This is a training exercise."

Parker says that an artificial heart made from living muscle cells would behave more like a natural heart, compared to the previous artificial hearts that are versions of mechanical pumps.

These hearts would be able to grow and change over time.

He said there’s a reason the heart is built in this way and they are trying to replicate its functions as much as possible.

Parker used stingray as a model because both the stingray and the heart needs to overcome problems that involve fluid and motion.

A stingray needs to go through the water while the heart needs to pump blood through the circulatory system.

Techcrunch reports that Parker used gold as a skeleton as it is flexible and nonreactive and the spine and ribs were designed to have a natural convexity.

The cardiac muscle derived from rats was cultivated around the ribs and they are genetically modified to respond to light instead of electrical signals from the nervous system.

Everything is encased in an elastomeric sheath in the shape of a small stingray.

Parker said that building an artificial stingray helped him figure out how to replicate the animal’s ability to respond instantly to changing conditions. The split-second adjustment is something that a heart usually does all the time.

John Dabiri, a professor of engineering at Stanford, said that the artificial stingray is likely to make some people uncomfortable because it raises the question about when a machine becomes a living organism.

He did say that scientists should still be considering the possibilities as other projects like these are pursued.