Harvard University researchers have made the first entirely 3D-printed organ-on-a-chip with integrated sensing.  Built by a fully automated, digital manufacturing procedure, the 3D-printed heart-on-a-chip can be quickly fabricated and customized, allowing researchers to easily collect reliable data for short-term and long-term studies.

This new approach to manufacturing may one day allow researchers to rapidly design organs-on-chips, also known as microphysiological systems, that match the properties of a specific disease or even an individual patient’s cells.

The research is published in Nature Materials.

3d-printed-heart-sensors“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,” 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).  Lind is also a researcher at the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University.

“Our microfabrication approach opens new avenues for in vitro tissue engineering, toxicology and drug screening research,” said Kit Parker, Tarr Family Professor of Bioengineering and Applied Physics at SEAS, who coauthored the study. Parker is also a Core Faculty Member of the Wyss Institute.

Organs-on-chips mimic the structure and function of native tissue and have 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.

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 microscopy or high-speed cameras.

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