The first entirely 3D-printed organ-on-a-chip developed by researchers at Harvard University
Harvard University researchers have developed the first entirely 3D-printed organ-on-a-chip with integrated sensing.
Built using a fully automated, digital manufacturing procedure, the 3D-printed heart-on-a-chip can be quickly fabricated and customised, allowing reliable data to be easily collected for short-term and long-term studies.
Organs-on-chips imitate the structure and function of native tissue and have also emerged as a promising alternative to traditional animal testing. Harvard researchers have developed microphysiological systems that mimic the microarchitecture and functions of lungs, hearts, tongues and intestines.
They believe this new approach to manufacturing may one day allow researchers to rapidly design organs-on-chips that match the properties of a specific disease or even an individual patient’s cells.
“This new programmable approach to building organs-on-chips not only allows us to easily change and customise the design of the system but also drastically simplifies data acquisition,” said Johan Ulrik Lind, first author of the paper and postdoctoral fellow at the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS).
At the moment however, the fabrication and data collection process for organs-on-chips is expensive and laborious. Currently, these devices are built in clean rooms using a complex, multi-step lithographic process and collecting data requires microspy or high-speed cameras.
“Our approach was to address these two challenges simultaneously via digital manufacturing,” said Travis Busbee, co-author of the paper and graduate student in the Lewis Lab. “By developing new printable inks for multi-material 3D printing we were able to automate the fabrication process while increasing the complexity of the devices.”
Six different inks were developed by the research team, all carrying the ability to integrate soft strain sensors within the micro-architecture of the tissue. In a single, continuous procedure, the team 3D-printed those materials into a cardiac microphysiological device – a heart-on-a-chip – with integrated sensors.
“We are pushing the boundaries of three-dimensional printing by developing and integrating multiple functional materials within printed devices,” said Jennifer Lewis, Hansjorg Wyss Professor of Biologically Inspired Engineering, and co-author of the study. “This study is a powerful demonstration of how our platform can be used to create fully functional, instrumented chips for drug screening and disease modelling.”
The chip contains multiple wells, each with separate tissues and integrated sensors, which allows researchers to study many engineered cardiac tissues at once. In order to demonstrate the effectiveness of the device, the team performed drug studies and longer-term studies of gradual changes in the contractile of engineered cardiac tissues, which can occur over the course of several weeks and months.
“Researchers are often left working in the dark when it comes to gradual changes that occur during cardiac tissue development and maturations because there has been a lack of easy, non-invasive ways to measure the tissue functional performance,” added Lind. “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.”