Canadian scientists have developed a way to grow swatches of living heart tissue – containing muscle and “Blood vessels” – that beat rhythmically like a real heart. The university of Toronto Prof. Milica Radisic and her team hope to use the technology to grow various kinds of “Mini organs” that function the way tissues do inside the human body.
That would allow them to be used for drug testing or even for growing replacement tissues to treat people who have suffered a heart attack, for example. Moraes was not involved in the new study, but his research, like Radisic’s, focuses on how to grow cells in conditions that more closely mimic the human body. Radisic and her team tried to create a more suitable environment for growing heart cells in a 3D scaffold or “Chip” instead of a flat petri dish.
Boyang Zhang, a Ph.D. student in Radisic’s lab, said he was impressed when he first saw heart cells beating rhythmically together on their scaffold in the lab. Zhang, lead author of the new study, helped improve the scaffold with pores that act as blood vessels and can be used to connect with other cells. “That is a critical component in our tissues,” he told CBC’s Christine Birak. The researchers call the new, improved version AngioChip and described it in a new paper published this week in the journal Nature Materials.
It has been tested with both heart and liver tissues.
The researchers showed that the engineered heart tissues could be implanted in and connected to the blood vessel network of a living rat.
“Instead of having an organ on a chip, I think they have set us up to have chips in an organ, where we can design most of the environment, put it into an actual living animal or eventually even a person and really study much more complex facets of the biology in a very realistic setting.” Right now, Zhang said, the researchers are seeing if they can do drug testing on simple versions of AngioChip that contain just a strip of tissue.
In the future, the researchers hope to be able to work with more complex versions that connect different tissues from different organs to study how they interact. Beyond that, they hope to be able to grow tissues outside the human body to treat someone who has had a heart attack, for example.
“We can create artificial heart muscles in the lab and could potentially use it to replace the damaged tissue from the patient.” However, the researchers haven’t yet started trying to implant their engineered tissues in humans, and Zhang said he wasn’t sure how far away that type of treatment might be.