"Heart-on-a-chip" could end drug testing on animals

The development of a "heart-on-a-chip" for testing new drugs could not only save time and billions of dollars in medical research, but also could end the use of animals in drug testing, according to researchers at the University of California, Berkeley.

As explained in the journal Scientific Reports, the scientists have developed a device populated with human heart cells that they believe could be an ideal tool for testing toxic side effects of new drugs on the human heart.

About one-third of drugs that are developed end up being discarded because of negative effects to the heart. To tackle this problem, the researchers created what they call a "cardiac microphysiological system (MPS)," that uses cells from human genes that are aligned to recreate the natural structure of human heart tissue to mimic blood flow. They say it can be used for  biological, electrophysiological and physiological analysis.

By testing on this heart-chip model rather than animals, the researchers said that more accurate results of how drugs will interact with the heart can be understood, because animal hearts do not function exactly the same way as human hearts.

How was this heart-on-a-chip made? It was generated from human-induced pluripotent stem cells. It also has 3D geometry and spacing equivalent to that of human heart tissue.  Different layers of heart cells were then added on, forcing the model to align in one direction. The model beats on its own at a normal rate of 55-80 beats per minute.

The team has tested four well-known cardiovascular drugs on the heart model and found that it responded as human hearts would to those medications.

The researchers say they will now look to see if they can create similar devices for other organs on a chip.

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Sourced from: medicalnewstoday.com, Drug testing using 'heart-on-a-chip' steps closer