Medusoid - artificial "jellyfish" (via California Insititue of Technology)
Silicon finds a use beyond the circuit board.
Scientists from the California Institute of Technology and Harvard’s Wyss Institute have succeeded in a collaboration to create a bio-synthetic jellyfish to gain a foot-hold on repairing or replacing damaged heart-valves in humans. The team of scientists designed their synthetic jellyfish, known as ‘Medusoid’ (shape resembling a jellyfish), to function in much the same manner as its real multi-organ counterpart which uses muscles to pump water below its bell-shaped body to maneuver through the sea (almost the same morphology as the beating of a human heart).
In order to gain a better understanding on how to reverse-engineer these gelatinous invertebrates, the team used specialized analysis (biometrics and crystallography) tools used by law enforcement agencies to map out sub-cellular protein networks found in muscle cells. This was followed by studying how electrical impulses contracted the muscles themselves, including timing, for the creature’s propulsion. The team’s findings led them to create the bio-replica by forming their jellyfish bell using a pliable sheet of silicon that features eight arm-like appendages for mobility.
Later the team found they could use strips of heart muscles made from rat cells grown in their respective labs to use as the jellyfishes ‘motor.' These strips were then affixed to the silicon bell using a flexible silicon-based elastomer which was then placed in a tank of sea water. They then sent an electrical current through the water and found that they could make their artificial jellyfish swim with a synchronization of electrical shocks. They even found that the muscles would contract on their own even before electrical current was introduced to the water (almost as if the muscles knew the shock was premeditated). It’s the hope of the scientists that the findings could lead to a better understanding of how to better bio-engineer replacement tissue for use in valve replacement in human hearts.