Bionic Muscle Breakthrough

Article excerpt

Byline: GERAINT JONES

A REVOLUTIONARY artificial muscle may be able to rejuvenate ailing hearts and render transplants unnecessary.

U.S. doctors are testing whether the futuristic bionic muscle, made from artificial silk, could beef up the weakened muscles of a diseased heart.

The faltering heart is cocooned in a sheath of the artificial muscle which then takes over its function. The silk is covered in a latex membrane to stop the body reacting against it. It `beats' by stretching and contracting as it reacts to alkaline and acidic solutions.

Cardiac specialists at two U.S. hospitals - Mount Sinai in New York and Evanston in Chicago - are conducting laboratory tests to determine the muscle's effectiveness in rebuilding a heart rather than just replacing it.

Its inventor, Mo Shahinpoor, was originally commissioned by the U.S.

Army to make military uniforms which would give soldiers superhuman strength.

Human muscles are biological polymers - substances made of chains of molecules - and he investigated the possibility that non-biological polymers could operate in the same way.

Fibres of the artificial silk, Orlan, are baked for five hours at 220c and then boiled in a sodium hydroxide solution. The silk becomes like a rubber band which stretches and contracts on contact with the alkali and acid.

`The idea is to build artifical muscles into garments,' says Mr Shahinpoor. `When the soldier needs to move heavy objects or is getting tired, the muscles augment his body strength. …