Researchers from Harvard University created the first 3-D-printed organ-on-a-chip, equipped with integrated sensing. The object is created through an exclusively automated procedure, and its purpose will be to help scientists collect and analyze data for both short and long-term studies.
When it comes to medical breakthroughs, technology pays a crucial role in helping us fight diseases and improve patients' conditions. The findings were published in Nature Materials. The study describes a translucent printed organ with built-in sensors that are not invasive to its functioning. Due to the multiple wells of the chip, a concomitant multiple study of different cardiac tissues is possible.
This may help manufacturing the design of organs-on-chips one day. The advantages of these gadgets include matching the properties of specific diseases and — should they be largely used — could replace testing on animals.
"This new programmable approach to building organs-on-chips not only allows us to easily change and customize the design of the system by integrating sensing but also drastically simplifies data acquisition," explained Johan Ulrik Lind, lead author of the paper.
The approach of microfabrication could open new directions for the research of in vitro tissue and its engineering process, as well as for toxicology and drug screening researches. The organs-on-chips copy the structure and function of a tissue and represent an auspicious alternative to traditional research conducted on animals.
The fabrication of these organs is highly expensive for now, as it is effortful; the devices are constructed through a multi-step lithographic process, and the procedure of data collection involves microscopy or high-speed cameras.
The team of researchers created six distinct inks, which integrated soft strain sensors in the architecture of the tissues, and 3-D-printed the materials into a cardiac micro-physiological device.
The chip has various wells. Each of those contains, at its turn, different tissues and sensors that are integrated into its organic composure, which allows the scientists to study a larger number of cardiac tissues at the same time. The team of researchers conducted drug studies, proving the efficacy of their device.
The breakthrough comes after in February, when another team of scientists has managed to successfully implant a printed tissue and organs into animals, and other scientists successfully designed a jaw for a cancer survivor.
Other Harvard researchers have managed to create micro-physiological systems mimicking the functions and micro-architecture of lungs, hearts, tongues and intestines. The synthetic organs could not only replace animal testing, but create a surrogate environment that could provide more accurate results when it comes to discovering the effects of different research on humans, through a first-hand testing means.
The organs-on-chip are also known by the name of micro-physiological systems (MPS); they are synthetic replacements for human internals. The forms they can take and the functions they can mimic vary from organs (such as the heart in the current scientific project) to cartilages, microvasculature and pretty much every form of tissue.