New "Biohybrid" Fish Swims for 108 Days with Human Heart Cells Grown from Stem Cells

Eric Sentell

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Biohybrid Fish SwimmingHarvard SEAS Twitter Acount

I've written previously about the first "pig-human" heart transplant. Researchers hope to one day grow human hearts inside pigs, which can then be harvested for use in humans.

That process may seem quaint one day. An bio-engineering research group at Harvard may leap forward and grow human hearts directly from stem cells.

The Disease Biophysics Group at the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) recently published a study in the journal Science. Their study used human stem cells to grow human heart cells, which they coaxed into becoming an artificial fish.

The heart cells contracted on the fins on each side of the fish, causing it to swim around its tank. An electric device paced the cells' contractions so that the fish's movement mimicked the rhythm of a beating human heart.

The fish swam for 108 days, or about 38 million heart-beats.

Today's pacemakers are electrical devices. Tomorrow's pacemakers could be artificial heart cells grown in a lab. The "biohybrid" fish is a step toward making better pacemakers out of actual tissue.

The "biohybrid" franken-fish proves multiple concepts:

  • Human cells can be grown into a non-human animal.
  • Heart cells can be grown and used in research.
  • Perhaps heart cells could be grown into full, operational hearts for transplant.

We are still a long way from growing functional hearts on fish fins and then plopping them into the chest cavity of a human on an operating table.

Yet the basic concept has been proven enough to warrant further research. The same research group previously created biohybrid stingrays and jellyfish from rat cells. Rat cells!

What will they think of next?

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