Though it may not look at all like the muscle in your chest, this heart-on-a-chip can beat like the real thing. A blend of microfluidics and biological cells, the device will be used as a more efficient means of testing for drug toxicity.
Developed by a team of bioengineers form University of California, Berkeley, the device is designed to mimic the geometry of connective tissue fibres in a human heart. Pluripotent stem cells – those that can be nudged to become one of the many different types of tissue present in our bodies – are introduced to a channel which is specially designed to encourage cells to grow in multiple layers in one direction. Here, they grow in to heart cells.
This section is then perfused with blood from microfluidic channels which act as blood vessels. Within 24 hours of lining the structure with heart cells, they began to beat at a rate of between 55 to 80 beats per minute – just like a real human heart. Anurag Mathur, one of the researchers, explains to PhysOrg:
"This system is not a simple cell culture where tissue is being bathed in a static bath of liquid. We designed this system so that it is dynamic; it replicates how tissue in our bodies actually gets exposed to nutrients and drugs."
The system has already been used to test established cardiovascular drugs such as isoproterenol, E-4031, verapamil and metoprolol. The team observed effects upon the heart-on-a-chip consistent with those brought about in real human – so, drugs intended to speed up heart rate did exactly that to the cells in the device. The findings are published in Scientific Reports.
It's hoped that the device will be used to screen drugs, model human genetic diseases – and perhaps even link up with other organs-on-a-chip to predict whole-body reactions too. [Scientific Reports via PhysOrg]