Lab Unveils Heart-on-a-Chip

Prescription drugs have enabled millions with chronic medical conditions to live longer and more fulfilling lives, but many promising new drugs never make it to the human trials stage due to the potential for cardiac toxicity.

Using “heart-on-a-chip” technology, researchers at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) are modeling a human heart on an engineered chip and measuring the effects of compound exposure on functions of heart tissue using microelectrodes.

According to researchers, it is the first design capable of simultaneously mapping both the electrophysiology and contraction frequency of the cells.

By using the technology, researchers hope to decrease the time needed for new drug trials and ensure that potentially lifesaving drugs are safe and effective while reducing the need for human and animal testing.

The research published online April 18, 2017 in the Journal “Lab on a Chip”, describes the successful recording of both electrical signals and cellular beating from normal human heart cells grown on a multi-electrode array developed at the lab.

Researchers report that the ability to record these two functions would be very useful to pharmaceutical companies because it could alert drug manufacturers to cardiac problems caused by a drug early in the process before reaching the clinical trial stage. Cardiotoxicity is a frequent side effect of many new drugs and often contributes to their ultimate failure.

“This platform allows us to do high throughput screening of pharmaceutical drugs and predict their effects on the heart”, said iCHIP Principal Investigator Elizabeth Wheeler. “This research allows us to measure two functions of the heart for the first time. There is still validation and data that we need, but eventually, we will be able to reduce the need for animal testing.”

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