Science

miniPUMP heart-on-a-chip pumps liquid using real human heart cells

miniPUMP heart-on-a-chip pumps...
Among other potential applications, the miniPUMP could be utilized to see how different medications affect heart function
Among other potential applications, the miniPUMP could be utilized to see how different medications affect heart function
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The research team (from left) consists of Christopher Chen, BU’s William F. Warren Distinguished Professor of Biomedical Engineering; Christos Michas (ENG’21), a postdoctoral researcher; and Alice White, a BU College of Engineering professor and chair of mechanical engineering
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The research team (from left) consists of Christopher Chen, BU’s William F. Warren Distinguished Professor of Biomedical Engineering; Christos Michas (ENG’21), a postdoctoral researcher; and Alice White, a BU College of Engineering professor and chair of mechanical engineering
Among other potential applications, the miniPUMP could be utilized to see how different medications affect heart function
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Among other potential applications, the miniPUMP could be utilized to see how different medications affect heart function
Christos Michas watches the cardiomyocyte-enabled miniature pump in action
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Christos Michas watches the cardiomyocyte-enabled miniature pump in action
A large-scale replica of the pump's scaffold, which the heart cells are seeded onto
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A large-scale replica of the pump's scaffold, which the heart cells are seeded onto
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When conducting cardiac research, it would be ideal if experiments could be performed on actual living human hearts. Scientists have developed what may be the next-best thing, in the form of a tiny mechanical heart powered by real cardiac cells.

Created by a team at Boston University, the flat-bodied "cardiac miniaturized Precision-enabled Unidirectional Microfluidic Pump" – or miniPUMP, for short – measures just 3 sq cm (0.5 sq in). It replicates the function of a real heart's ventricle (lower chamber), pumping water through itself in the same way that an actual heart pumps blood.

The device consists of a plastic base, mounted upon which are minuscule 3D-printed acrylic valves, tubes, and the actual pump itself.

That pump incorporates a scaffold made up of a series of linked concentric acrylic spirals. These are seeded with live human cardiomyocytes (heart muscle cells). As those cells expand and contract in unison, the flexible scaffold moves with them, pumping water through the miniPUMP.

Christos Michas watches the cardiomyocyte-enabled miniature pump in action
Christos Michas watches the cardiomyocyte-enabled miniature pump in action

The cardiomyocytes can be obtained by starting with skin cells, blood cells, or pretty much any other type of easily-accessible cells. These are reprogrammed into stem cells, which are then prompted to differentiate into heart cells. This means that patients could have miniPUMPs made from their own cells, to see how different medications might affect their heart specifically.

"With this system, if I take cells from you, I can see how the drug would react in you, because these are your cells," said the lead scientist, postdoctoral researcher Christos Michas. "This system replicates better some of the function of the heart, but at the same time, gives us the flexibility of having different humans that it replicates."

It is hoped that the same technology could one day be used to produce other so-called "organ-on-a-chip" devices, such as lungs and kidneys. In fact, this isn't the first heart-on-a-chip we've seen – differently-designed models have been developed at Harvard University and the University of California at Berkeley, among other places.

The research is described in a paper that was recently published in the journal Science Advances.

Source: Boston University

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