New York: In a first, Harvard University researchers have made an entirely 3D-printed organ-on-a-chip with integrated sensing that can offer a viable alternative to traditional animal testing.
"We are pushing the boundaries of three-dimensional printing by developing and integrating multiple functional materials within printed devices," said coauthor of the study 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," Lewis noted.
Organs-on-chips mimic the structure and function of native tissue and have emerged as a promising alternative to traditional animal testing.
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.
"Our approach was to address these two challenges simultaneously via digital manufacturing," Travis Busbee, coauthor of the paper and graduate student in the Lewis Lab, pointed out.
"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," Busbee said.
Built by a fully automated, digital manufacturing procedure, the 3D-printed heart-on-a-chip can be quickly fabricated in customised form factors allowing researchers to easily collect reliable data for short-term and long-term studies.
The researchers believe that the new approach to manufacturing, described in the journal in Nature Materials, 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.
"This new programmable approach to building organs-on-chips not only allows us to easily change and customise the design of the system by integrating sensing but also drastically simplifies data acquisition," study first author Johan Ulrik Lind said.