Electronics News Updates

Heart On-A-Chip Beats

PORTLAND, Ore. — Living beating hearts on-a-chip were recently created from pluripotent stem cells discovered by 2010 Kyoto Prize Winner, Shinya Yamanaka. Bioengineers at the University of Berkeley aim to create all of the human organs on-a-chip then connect them with micro-fluidic channels to create a complete human-being on-a-wafer.

Heart On-A-Chip Beats

“We have learned how to derive almost any type of human tissue from skin stem cells as was first discovered by Yamanaka,” professor Kevin Healy told EE Times. “Our initial application is drug screening without having to use animals, but putting organs-on-a-chip using the stem cells of the patient could help with genetic diseases as well.”

Heart on-a-chip beats each time it pumps blood through micro-fluidic “veins” in its silicone and polymer container.

(Source: University of California at Berkeley)

As to connecting different organs using micro-fluidic channels to carry blood and natural biological fluids between them, the human-on-a-wafer could be used to study the interaction of drugs among different organs.

“For instance, one drug might solve a heart problem, but create toxins in the liver,” Healy told us. “Which would be much better to find out before administering to the patient.”

As to creating living robots in this way, Healy said that was not their mission on the current project, since their funding in coming from the National Institutes of Health’s (NIH’s) Tissue Chip for Drug Screening Initiative, an interagency collaboration specifically aimed at developing 3-D human tissue chips for drug screening.

However, the technology being creating, especially the microfluidic channels connecting the organs-on-a-chip so that they interact, could someday serve as a basis for making robot-like creatures.

Heart On-A-Chip Beats

“What we would need for that is sensors and actuators. Sensors would be the easiest, but MIT in particular is working on artificial muscles to serve as actuators,” Healy told us.

So far Healy and colleagues have created and inch-long artificial heart, housed in silicone, containing real cardiac muscle cells. In about 24-hours after the heart cells are inserted in the device, then spontaneously begin beating at a normal 55-to-80 times per minute, pumping blood from through the microfluidic channels. It also responds normally to drugs proven to speed up or slowdown its frequency.

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