One day in the future, organ manufacturing may be the next big thing in healthcare, designing organs-on-chips that match the properties of a specific disease or even an individual patient’s cells.
At least that is what researchers at Harvard University are developing with the first entirely 3-D-printed organ-on-a-chip with integrated sensing. The University has developed a heart-on-a-chip that was built by a fully automated, digital manufacturing procedure that researchers are using to collect data for short-term and long-term studies and is something that could be quickly fabricated.
Called microphysiological systems, the organ-on-a-chip can be easily changed and customized through integrated sensing, something that drastically simplifies data acquisition in research studies, Harvard says.
“Our microfabrication approach opens new avenues for in-vitro tissue engineering, toxicology and drug screening research,” says Kit Parker, Tarr Family Professor of Bioengineering and Applied Physics at Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences.
How They Did It
The organ-on-chips mimic the function of native tissues and have become a possible way to work around traditional animal testing. Harvard was able to develop the microarchitecture and functions of lungs, hearts, tongues and intestines. The problem is that the fabrication and data collection process of microphysiological systems is expensive and time consuming, built in clean rooms using a multi-step lithographic process, and data collection requires high-speed cameras or microscopy.
Researchers developed six different inks that integrate soft strain sensors within the microarchitecture of the tissue. In a single automated procedure, the organ-on-chips were 3-D-printed into a cardiac microphysiological device, in this case a heart-on-a-chip.
The fabricated chip contains multiple wells containing separate tissues and integrated sensors, making it possible to study many engineered cardiac tissues at once. Initial tests on the tissue included drug studies and longer-term studies on gradual changes on the engineered material.
“Researchers are often left working in the dark when it comes to gradual changes that occur during cardiac tissue development and maturation because there has been a lack of easy, non-invasive ways to measure the tissue functional performance,” says Johan Ulrik Lind, postdoctoral fellow at the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. “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.”