3D-Printed 'Heart-on-a-Chip' Offers Hope for End of Animal Testing

3d printing heart on chip harvard
A heart-on-a-chip, made entirely using multimaterial 3D printing in a single automated procedure. Researchers hope it could pave the way for the end of animal testing. Lori K. Sanders and Alex D. Valentine, Lewis Lab/Harvard University

The first ever fully 3D-printed 'heart-on-a-chip' has been developed by researchers, offering a synthetic alternative for the living tissue that is currently used in animal testing.

Harvard scientists created the breakthrough device using printable inks that contain sensors designed to measure how the tissue responds to drugs and toxins.

"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," said Johan Ulrik Lind, a researcher at the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University.

The built-in sensors allow the heart-on-a-chip—also known as a microphysiological system—to accurately mimic the structure and function of real tissue.

It is hoped the device will help accelerate research into new drugs and advanced medicine, while avoiding the "innumerable animals lives that are lost" in clinical studies.

Beyond saving animal lives, the organ-on-a-chip devices can be efficiently produced and are more accurate at mimicking human pathophysiology, the researchers claim.

"We are pushing the boundaries of three-dimensional printing by developing and integrating multiple functional materials within printed devices," said Jennifer Lewis, a 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 modelling."