Researchers 3D print first data harvesting heart on a chip

24 Oct 2016

The finished heart on a chip. Image: Johan Lind, Disease Biophysics Group/Lori K Sanders, Lewis Lab/Harvard University

Researchers at Harvard University have made a considerable breakthrough in the development of the first heart on a chip that can replicate and harvest data on the activities of the heart.

In the near future, scientific experiments conducted on hearts – be it human or otherwise – could be done on a heart on a chip, rather than once living tissue and muscle.

In a considerable breakthrough, a team of Harvard researchers has created the first heart on a chip that replicates all signals of the vital organ.

Future Human

Built by a fully automated, digital manufacturing procedure, the university has said the 3D printed heart on a chip can be quickly fabricated in customised form factors allowing researchers to easily collect reliable data for short-term and long-term studies.

This also marks the first entirely 3D printed organ on a chip with integrated sensing that can mimic the structure and function of native tissue, emerging as a promising alternative to traditional animal testing.

The only problem with this method until now has been that the fabrication process of these artificial organ chips has been both expensive and labour intensive, built in clean rooms using elaborate equipment.

This new 3D printing process however – now published in Nature Materials – can produce the same chips for a fraction of the cost and with much more available equipment.

To achieve this, the researchers developed six different 3D printer inks that integrated soft strain sensors within the microarchitecture of the tissue.

Then, in a single continuous procedure, the team printed 3D models of those materials into the working cardiac microphysiological device, or heart on a chip.

3D printer heart

The printing of the heart on a chip. Image: Johan Lind, Disease Biophysics Group/Lori K Sanders, Lewis Lab/Harvard University

Data collection machines

With each chip containing multiple wells, all with their own separate tissue and sensors, the researchers were able to study many engineered cardiac tissues at once, which had not been possible with other testing methods.

“This new programmable approach to building organs on chips not only allows us to easily change and customise the design of the system by integrating sensing but also drastically simplifies data acquisition,” said Johan Ulrik Lind, first author of the paper.

He continued: “These integrated sensors allow researchers to continuously collect data while tissues mature and improve their contractility. Similarly, they will enable studies of gradual effects of chronic exposure to toxins.”

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic