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This robotic fish is powered by human cells, and it's helping researchers learn more about the heart

Robot fish
Posted at 12:44 PM, Feb 18, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-18 15:00:02-05

The way a jellyfish swims can be compared to how a human heart beats — at least that's what Harvard bioengineering professor Kit Parker thought when he took his daughter to the aquarium years ago.

"So, I'm looking at these jelly fish swimming, and my daughter's a toddler then. She's, like, running around," Parker said. "And I'm thinking, 'Wow, so that thing beats just like the heart, and it's small enough — I bet I could build that.'"

Parker is one of the researchers behind a bio-hybrid robotic fish powered by human heart cells. He hopes the project can help researchers learn more about the human heart and, eventually, create an artificial heart one day.

"Ultimately, our goal is to build a heart for a child born with a malformed part," Parker said. "We learned a lot. We learned now about how to build muscular pumps with human cardiac biophysics, build a fish out of human cells and how to keep them alive for a long time."

Researchers at the University of Vermont and Tufts University recently released new research on what they say is a living robot, called xenobots. The bio-hybrid fish also fall under the living robot category.

But unlike xenobots that keep evolving, the bio-hybrid fish have been destroyed. Parker says we won't see them again, and they were solely used as a training tool.

He plans to continue his research into building a successful artificial heart.