In a recent study in Nature Biotechnology, scientists used silicone and muscle cells from rats to construct an artificial jellyfish. This engineered jellyfish displays behavior such as propulsion and swimming when placed in the right environment. What does this mean for artificially engineered organs?
Tissue loss and organ failure is one of the biggest medical challenges faced in the US today. Artificial engineering of tissues and organs in the lab provides a way to improve the quality of life and in some cases can even be life saving. The field of tissue engineering has aimed to do precisely that for many years now. However, building tissues in the lab is challenging. The biology of tissues is complex enough, but further complexity is added by the mechanics that the tissue must replicate.
Consider this scenario: if you were able to grow a bunch of muscle cells in the lab, would they be able to recreate muscle tissue? Would they be able to withstand load and expand and contract as muscle tissue does in the body? These are the challenges faced by bioengineers as they work towards engineering functional tissues in the lab.
Recently, a study in Nature Biotechnology demonstrated the construction of an artificial jellyfish. Using silicone polymer and rat muscle tissue, the researchers were able to engineer a freely swimming medusoid like structure. This artificial jellyfish mimics the swimming, propulsion and stroke behavior of jellyfish.
This work is a milestone in reverse engineering of organs because the scientists were able to capture important behavior of an organism using living and non-living materials. Biological effects usually span many length and time scales. While understanding function at the genetic level is very important, larger length scale behavior is usually dependent on animal form and function.
The researchers now plan to build such medusoids using cardiac tissue and hope that it will serve as a good platform for testing new drugs. The potential for such systems is immense not only in artifical organs but also in the realm of drug development and testing.