Researchers at Boston University engineered a heart chamber on a chip that can beat by itself. The technology relies on cardiomyocytes generated from induced pluripotent stem cells and small acrylic valves that allow the fluid pumped by the chamber to come and go.
The chamber is supported by a thin acrylic scaffold that aims to mimic the mechanical properties of a real heart chamber, and the cardiomyocytes can compress it while beating. The researchers hope that the platform will allow them to investigate treatments for heart disease. By obtaining and using cells from patients, the technology could also allow for unique forms of personalized cardiac medicine.
Studying the heart has always proved to be a challenge, and creating adequate mimics in the lab is a key part of this challenge. Addressing this is what drove this latest research, and the resulting technology may also pave the way for devices that allow researchers to study other organs in unprecedented detail.
“We can study disease progression in a way that hasn’t been possible before,” said Alice White, a researcher involved in the study. “We chose to work on heart tissue because of its particularly complicated mechanics, but we showed that, when you take nanotechnology and marry it with tissue engineering, there’s potential for replicating this for multiple organs.”
The researchers have called their technology the “miniaturized Precision-enabled Unidirectional Microfluidic Pump” (miniPUMP). The device is small, about the size of a postage stamp, allowing the Boston University researchers to take advantage of the varied mechanical properties of materials at a small scale.
“The structural elements are so fine that things that would ordinarily be stiff are flexible,” said White. “By analogy, think about optical fiber: a glass window is very stiff, but you can wrap a glass optical fiber around your finger. Acrylic can be very stiff, but at the scale involved in the miniPUMP, the acrylic scaffold is able to be compressed by the beating cardiomyocytes.”
Creating the tiny components for the device required a technique called two-photon direct laser writing. This involves shining a tiny beam of light into a liquid resin. The illuminated area within the resin becomes solid, creating the structure.
The researchers hope that their technology will assist with drug screening to find new treatments for cardiac disease and also help to increase our understanding of such diseases.
In the following video, on the left is a chamber of the miniPUMP that beats thanks to the contraction of cardiac tissue. As the tissue beats, it ejects fluid out of the chamber, shown on the right side of the video.
Study in Science Advances: Engineering a living cardiac pump on a chip using high-precision fabrication
Via: Boston University