Researchers at the John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) at Harvard University have created the first entirely 3D Printed organ-on-a-chip with integrated sensing. This could change medical research significantly as it is a promising alternative to animal testing.
The heart-on-a-chip can quickly be 3D printed through a fully automated, digital manufacturing process. It also allows for customisation, so researchers can design organs-on-chips that match the properties of a specific disease or even an individual patient’s cells. Thus data for short-term and long-term studies could easily be collected. It opens up new possibilities for in vitro tissue engineering, toxicology and drug screening research.
“This new programmable approach to building organs-on-chips not only allows us to easily change and customize the design of the system but also drastically simplifies data acquisition,” explained Johan Ulrik Lind, first author of the paper and postdoctoral fellow at SEAS.
The conventional fabrication and data collection process for these microphysiological systems is expensive and laborious, involving a complex, multi-step lithographic process and microscopy or high-speed cameras for data collection. “Our approach was to address these two challenges simultaneously via digital manufacturing,” said Travis Busbee, coauthor 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.”
Using six different inks and integrated soft strain sensors within the micro-architecture of the tissue, the research team was able to develop a continuous 3D printing procedure to create the heart-on-a-chip. To demonstrate its efficacy, drug studies and longer-term studies were performed.
“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 coauthor 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 modeling.”
The study has been published in Nature Materials.