A major step toward 3D-printed organs
There’s been a lot of hype around the promise of using three-dimensional printing to create human organs for implantation, but mimicking the complex functions of the human body is just as hard as it sounds. Researchers at Harvard University recently made a major advance in the field.
Just last month, researchers at Harvard University announced the first entirely 3D-printed organ-on-a-chip to feature integrated sensing – a “heart-on-a-chip” manufactured by a fully automated, digital procedure that allows researchers to collect data for short-term and long-term studies.
It’s a major step forward for one of the Holy Grails in medicine: Creating fully functional artificial human organs for research and, eventually, implantation into the human body.
The team designed six different inks using piezoresistive, high-conductance, biocompatible soft materials. The inks allowed them to integrate soft strain gauge sensors within micro-architectures, which in turn facilitate the self-assembly of endothelial cells – the cells that line human blood vessels.
“We validated that these embedded sensors provide non-invasive, electronic readouts of tissue contractile stresses inside cell incubator
environments. We further applied these devices to study drug responses, as well as the contractile development of human stem cell-derived laminar cardiac tissues over four weeks,” the researchers wrote in Nature Materials.
It’s an important step toward creating viable in vitro models to study biological processes as an alternative to conventional animal models. Although organs on-chips have been around for a few years, they are expensive and laborious to produce.
“Our approach was to address these two challenges simultaneously via digital manufacturing,” co-author Travis Busbee said last month. “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.”
“We are pushing the boundaries of three-dimensional printing by developing and integrating multiple functional materials within printed devices,” added co-author Jennifer Lewis. “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.”