An Indian-origin scientist with the University of California at Berkeley was involved in growing a viable, pulsating heart on a microchip to improve drug screening.
This method, if works, will replace animal models that do not mimic human responses, according to the researchers.
"Many times doctors and researchers fail to predict a response to a certain drug or medicine because of the inaccuracy of the models used, like mice, that don’t have the same reactions as human tissue," Anurag Mathur, lead author of the study and post doctoral fellow at UC Berkeley, was quoted as saying by Xinhua.
The study, which was published by the journal Scientific Reports, was carried out at the laboratory of bioengineering of professor Kevin Healy.
The tiny heart, which according to Mathur is hardly the width of a human hair, was created with human-induced pluripotent stem cells that can form many different types of tissues.
These cells, once tricked into forming heart tissue, were grown around a special silicon microchip with cell and media channels that mimicked the heart’s blood vessels. Feeding this bionic heart a mix of nutrients to keep it alive, researchers then could make the heart beat and work for up to a month.
"We were able to run multiple tests during this period, so we proved that this can be a viable solution to replace animal models," Mathur said. "It began beating only 24 hours after being developed at a normal rate of 50-80 beats per minute."
Drug screening using this device could not only save lives, but also millions of dollars due to the high cost of calculating the approximate dose needed for patients with heart conditions.
"It takes about 5 billion US dollars on average to develop a drug, and 60 percent of that figure comes from upfront costs in the research and development phase," Healy said in a press release. "Using a well-designed model of a human organ could significantly cut the cost and time of bringing a new drug to market."
Researchers see the future of medicine as completely personalised — thanks to this kind of organs-on-a-chip. All it takes will be a sample, the patient then will be able to have his or her heart modelled in a lab with all the tests done.
"Doctors will be able to predict how certain drugs react on specific patients, thus preventing many illnesses and loss of valuable time," Mathur said, adding that "I see this happening in five years in most of the doctor’s offices."