The heart, in a way, is the body’s motor. Its job is to pump and circulate blood around the body to provide oxygen to all of our other tissues. Because of its key role, cardiac trouble and dysfunction mean serious health concerns. This is responsible for one in every four deaths annually in the U.S. according to the CDC.
Many researchers are working on new treatments and looking to further understand the heart. However, this type of work is tricky as there’s no safe way to view a human heart. It’s not like we can pop this vital organ in and out of our chest at pleasure.
Scientists from Boston University have recently come up with a creative way to get around this problem through bioengineering a miniature replica of a heart chamber, named miniPUMP.
This tiny heart isn’t much bigger than a postage stamp and is constructed of human heart tissue and nano-engineered parts. It is composed of miniature acrylic valves which open and close to pump liquid around tubes that mimic veins and arteries. These custom-built components are fitted onto a thin piece of 3D-printed plastic for the muscle stem cells to form around. This biological tissue is the powerhouse of the miniature organ, contracting using electrical impulses to be able to beat by itself, just like a real heart.
How can this device help heart disease research?
This novel device could allow researchers to get a more accurate view of how the organ works and get a better understanding of diseases and treatment effectiveness. All this without even leaving the lab, not posing any risk to patients, reducing spending by millions, and finding quicker more advanced treatments.
“We can study disease progression in a way that hasn’t been possible before,” says Alice White, who worked on the project. “We chose to work on heart tissue because of its particularly complicated mechanics, but we showed that, when you take nanotechnology and marry it with tissue engineering, there’s potential for replicating this for multiple organs.”
The team is working with other experts in mechanical, biomedical, and material engineering to develop the miniPUMP further. The aim is to refine the technology and to plan the most effective way to manufacture the technology.
Source study: Science – Engineering a living cardiac pump on a chip using high-precision fabrication