Researchers have used a 3D printer and six novel bioinks to build a “heart-on-a-chip” that can serve as a living organ for drug testing. The device, developed by a team of bioengineers out of Harvard’s Wyss Institute, was described this week in Nature Materials.
The Wyss team’s heart is the first organ-on-a-chip to be built with a 3D printer. The system can be programmed to print different types of organ-chips, and allows for automated production. “The whole field has been building one-offs [of organ-chips] that aren’t amenable to mass manufacturing,” says Kit Parker, a bioengineer at Wyss and an author of the paper. “We solved that.”
That may be enticing to pharmaceutical companies and academic labs that want to speed up the drug screening process. With mass produced organ-chips, those groups can test how living tissue might respond to a new drug without using animals or humans as test subjects.
The Wyss team’s device also automates the process of collecting data from the organ. By building sensors into the chip, the team enabled the device to spit out data on how it’s doing. That takes away the laborious process of optically measuring an organ-chip’s response, says Jennifer Lewis, a materials scientist at Wyss and an author of the paper. In the past, we “were literally sitting over a microscope taking video…and then going back in to do image analysis to try to measure” the organ’s response, she says. “It’s very difficult and imprecise,” she says.
The Wyss heart-on-a-chip is printed in one shot. After it’s completed, heart muscle cells, called cardiomyocytes, are added and grown in the chip’s eight wells. Scientists can then expose the cells to drugs or stressful environmental conditions and measure them to see how they perform.