by Aaron Gochman (’18)
A team of researchers from Harvard, Stanford, and Sogang University in South Korea made headlines this week with a discovery that captures the future of bioengineering. Living cardiac muscle cells were taken from rats and printed onto a robot shaped like a sting ray. The cells were engineered to express proteins that activate in response to light; when activated, the cells twitch, inducing a contraction and subsequently moving the wings of the ray.
The cells were printed in such a way that would mimic the swimming stroke of a sting ray during contractions. Proteins within the cells were even fine-tuned to respond to different light intensities so that the robot can make turns and navigate obstacles.
This work leads us closer to a fully bioengineered heart; the ray does not exactly resemble the heart but developing technology to control cardiac cells is the key to building a heart that can beat on its own.
- S. Park et. al., Phototactic guidance of a tissue-engineered soft-robotic ray. Science 353, 158-162 (2016). doi: 10.1126/science.aaf4292
- Image retrieved from: http://science.sciencemag.org/content/353/6295/158.full