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Biohybrid device – a fish designed with human cardiac biophysics – provides greater understanding of muscular pump function

16 April 2022

To the Beat

Swimming like a fish, this biohybrid device, blending artificial and biological structures, is the latest tool designed by scientists studying the heart. Powering a fish shape made of paper and gelatine, with plastic fins, are two layers of cardiac muscle cells, derived from human stem cells. When cells in one layer contract, the others stretch, activating mechanosensitive ion channels in their cell membranes that cause them to contract in return, stretching the other side, and so on, in a continuous loop propelling the fish forward of its own accord. Researchers also engineered a group of cells to drive the rhythm of contractions, acting like the sinoatrial node, the heart’s natural pacemaker. Emulating the heart’s coordinated, autonomous beating, the fish remained active for over 100 days, and even improved its performance, swimming faster over its first month of activity. Monitoring its behaviour presents new opportunities to test how cardiac muscle operates.

Written by Emmanuelle Briolat

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BPoD stands for Biomedical Picture of the Day. Managed by the MRC Laboratory of Medical Sciences until Jul 2023, it is now run independently by a dedicated team of scientists and writers. The website aims to engage everyone, young and old, in the wonders of biology, and its influence on medicine. The ever-growing archive of more than 4000 research images documents over a decade of progress. Explore the collection and see what you discover. Images are kindly provided for inclusion on this website through the generosity of scientists across the globe.

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