What if we could avoid the first cautionary step of testing new medications on animals before human trials? Researchers at the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) have created the first 3D-printed heart-on-a-chip with integrated sensors. The small 3D-printable device that contains heart tissue and measures reactions to cardiac drugs. It could potentially speed up clinical testing and trials while at the same time curtailing the need to test with animals and lowering the cost of testing new drugs.

Previously, creating organs-on-chips was laborious and costly, requiring clean rooms with multi-step lithography. Data collecting required high-speed cameras and microscopy. After earlier work creating chips that mimicked the functions of lungs, hearts, tongues, and intestines, the Harvard researchers focused on overcoming both obstacles with digital manufacturing. They developed six inks with integrated sensors that could be 3D printed into a cardiac microphysiological device. The chip has multiple wells, each with separate tissues and sensors, to enable the study of multiple variables at the same time.

“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, postdoctoral fellow at SEAS and researcher at the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University. By incorporating sensors in the design material, fabrication and data collection are both accommodated in a single step.