heart lungs
April 22, 2015

3D-printed organs mimic behavior of heart, lungs

Chuck Bednar for redOrbit.com - @BednarChuck

Researchers from the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine have developed tiny, 3D-printed organ-like objects that can mimic the function of the heart and lungs that they hope could be used to create an accurate model of the human body for research purposes.

According to Gizmodo, the objects are manufactured by reprogramming human skin cells into other types of cells, such as heart cells. They are then clumped together in cell cultures, formed into objects of the desired shape and size using 3D printing, and used to create structures which could speed up drug-testing and eliminate the need for laboratory animals.

Furthermore, the organs could be used to probe the effects of chemicals and pathogens, and the process could ultimately be used to develop an entire human body on a chip, New Scientist said. Video of the research shows a cluster of mini-hearts, all beating in rhythm with one another.

Turning human skin cells into functional mini-organs

The heart cells or organoids are created by genetically modifying the skin cells of adult humans into induced pluripotent stem (IPS) cells, which are reprogrammed again to reproduce the mini-organs that grow and are converted to different shapes and sizes though additive manufacturing. The end result is a series of small-scale replicas of actual, working human organs.

Dr. Anthony Atala, director of the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine, is leading the research, and a spokesperson at the Institute told redOrbit via email that the goal of his work is to engineer a total of four mini-organs: the aforementioned heart and liver, as well as a blood vessel and a lung that still have to be engineered before the system is complete.

“Miniature lab-engineered, organ-like hearts, lungs, livers and blood vessels – linked together with a circulating blood substitute – will be used both to predict the effects of chemical and biologic agents and to test the effectiveness of potential treatments,” Dr. Atala said in a recent statement. “We are fortunate to have experts from around the country join us on this effort.”

The organ-like structures will be placed on a two-inch chip, then connected to a system of fluid channels and sensors that will be used to monitor both the individual organs and the system as a whole, the researchers explained. The blood substitute will not only keep the cells alive, but can be used to introduce new chemicals, pathogens or therapies into the system for evaluation.

The substances will be carried from one tissue to another through a series of hollow channels, and the scientists will measure the temperature, oxygen levels, pH balance and other factors in real time through sensors. If successful, this technique would significantly reduce the time and cost required to develop treatments or countermeasures to biological agents, they added.

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