Organs-on-chips mimic the structure and function of native tissue (lungs, hearts, tongues, intestines etc.) and have emerged as a promising alternative to traditional animal testing. However, the fabrication and data collection process 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.

By developing new printable inks for multi-material 3D printing, Harvard University researchers were able to automate the fabrication process while increasing the complexity of the devices. Built by a fully automated, digital manufacturing procedure, their 3D-printed heart-on-a-chip is the first entirely 3D-printed organ-on-a-chip with integrated sensing. Quickly fabricated and customized, it drastically simplifies data acquisition and will allow researchers to easily collect reliable data for short-term and long-term studies.

Fully functional, instrumented chips for drug screening and disease modeling

This new approach to manufacturing may one day allow researchers to rapidly design microphysiological systems, that match the properties of a specific disease or even an individual patient’s cells. This approach opens new avenues for in vitro tissue engineering, toxicology and drug screening research.

The chip contains multiple wells, each with separate tissues and integrated sensors, allowing researchers to study many engineered cardiac tissues at once. The team performed drug studies and longer-term studies of gradual changes in the contractile stress of engineered cardiac tissues, which can occur over the course of several weeks.