Scientists are developing a miniature heart to test new therapies

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There’s no sure way to get a close-up view of the human heart as it does its job: you can’t just take it out, peek inside, then put it back in.

Scientists have tried different ways to get around this basic problem: they’ve hooked up cadaver hearts to machines to make them pump again, and attached lab-grown heart tissue to springs to watch them expand and contract.

Each approach has its flaws: revived hearts can only beat for a few hours; the springs cannot reproduce the forces acting on the real muscle.

But better understanding this vital organ is urgent: in America, a person dies of heart disease every 36 seconds. Now, an interdisciplinary team of engineers, biologists and geneticists have developed a new way to study the heart: they’ve built a miniature replica of a heart chamber from a combination of nano-engineered parts and human heart tissue.

Unlike earlier trials that used springs or external power sources, the new version just beats on its own, driven by living stem cell-derived heart tissue. The device could give researchers a more accurate view of the functioning of the organ, allowing them to follow the growth of the heart in the embryo, study the impact of the disease and test the potential effectiveness and effects side effects of new treatments, all without risk. to patients and without leaving a laboratory.

The Boston University-led team behind the gadget officially known as the Miniaturized Cardiac Precision One-Way Microfluidic Pump – says the technology could also pave the way for building lab versions of other organs, from the lungs to the kidneys. Their findings were published in Science Advances on April 24.

“This tool helps us study disease progression in a way that was not possible before. We chose to work on cardiac tissue because of its particularly complicated mechanics, but we have shown that when you take nanotechnology and combine it with tissue engineering, there is reproductive potential for multiple organs,” says Alice White, a professor at the BU College of Engineering and holder of the chair of mechanical engineering.


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