The Beating of an Artificial Heart

Author:  Minnie Rai
Institution:  University of Western Ontairo
Date:  October 2007

Researchers at Harvard University recently coated cardiac muscle cells with a plastic polymer to create an artificial muscle that can contract like a real heart. The marriage between the plastic polymer, polydimethylsiloxane and rat muscle cells stimulates movement that has the potential for many scientific and medical uses.

Lead researcher, Adam Feinberg and his team engineered an elastomer (an elastic substance either occurring naturally or manufactured synthetically) capable of controlled cellular function.

The elastomer has unique properties, including flexibility and controlled movement, and can be cut into different shapes by a scalpel to serve specific purposes. Its survival is dependent on a certain environment of electrolytes and nutrients.

The uses for this unique polymer appear to be endless. Its ability to mimic the beating heart is fascinating, as rat heart muscles were placed in between the polymer and fibronectin- a protein found in the body that initiates a natural wound healing process, is brushed on top of the film.

"This gets all the muscle cells aligned in the same directions, so they all contract in the same direction," stated Feinberg.

Feinberg and his team have discovered ways in which this unique polymer can grip and behave like a motorized spring when induced by an electric current.

Kit Parker, another researcher on the team believes that the film created can be used as a tool to help scientists understand the biomechanics of marine life. The polymer can be manipulated into various shapes that cause it to propel itself and even swim in different solutions. The research team believes that with a distinct property of movement that this polymer exhibits, it could be used to replicate the swimming motions of extinct creatures, like the Basilosauraus, which is a 35-million-year-old whale that swam in the same manner as that of a present day eel.

Some academic minds in the scientific community do remain skeptical of this polymer, like Jonathan Rossiter, who is a researcher of biomimetics at the University of Bristol, United Kingdom who states that, "A number of applications are waiting for this type of smart film', although some may seem a little science fiction."

Although even he agrees that its practical uses are quite impressive and one day can even act as micro-autonomous robots swimming in the blood stream clearing out life-threatening blockages. This study was published in the September 7th issue of the journal Science and was authored by Adam Feinberg, Kevin Kit Parker, Alex Feigel, Sergey S. Shevkoplyas and George M. Whitesides of Harvard's Department of Chemisty and Chemical Biology.

Author: Minnie Rai

Reviewed by: Veronica Phillips, Pooja Ghatalia

Published by: Konrad Sawicki