Like with all other fields, studying biology, anatomy, and medicine requires, at some point, going hands-on. When studying cardiac cells, students need to learn about how potassium, sodium, and calcium ionic currents relate to overall fitness and function. But, gaining that experience in the lab requires testing vertebrate animals, which isn’t currently an option in Cornell University’s ECE 4910 class. To provide an non-biological alternative, students Adarsh Jayakumar and Samir Durvasula have built an artificial cardiac cell that emulates biological ionic currents.
Jayakumar and Durvasula designed and built the hardware cardiac cell as part of the requirements to earn their Master of Electrical and Computer Engineering degrees. The hardware of the cardiac cell is a small PCB populated with a PIC32 microcontroller, an SPI DAC (digital-to-analog converter), a TFT display, and supporting discrete components. A set of five buttons and a sliding potentiometer give users input to select and adjust each of the simulated ionic currents.
The user interface and microcontroller functions were programmed in C. MATLAB was used to efficiently model the cell functions, which rely on a reduced Priebe-Beuckelmann human ventricular cell model. When using the artificial cardiac cell, students can configure different ionic current levels for the board to simulate. They can then see, and measure, those currents on the TFT screen, or on an oscilloscope attached to the board. Using this artificial cardiac cell, the students should be able to gain valuable experience in a more controlled and streamlined manner than with animals in the lab.