Grow-your-own miniature hearts

Dr James Hudson and a team from The University of Queensland have created a device that provides researchers with easy-access to tissue that models cardiovascular diseases and could help discover new therapies for patients.

High magnification confocal image of cardiac cells (red) in a human cardiac organoid. Credit: Richard Mills.

By automatically assembling cardiac cells, the device creates cardiac organoids that behave like a scaled-down model of a heart. It provides researchers with an all-in-one testing package that only requires the addition of a cell-matrix mixture, cell culture medium and video imaging
for monitoring.

Cardiac organoids are used by medical researchers to study the heart in realistic environments, without needing an actual human subject. They can be used to test treatments or to study mechanical effects known to cause heart failure. However, the fabrication of these organoid test beds in traditional formats is laborious, time-consuming, and requires a high level of training.

The UQ team have simplified the fabrication process of the organoids. Its technology, called the Heart-Dyno, comprises two posts and a cell culture well that are engineered to facilitate the automated growth of a cardiac organoid. The device can also induce mechanical stresses on the tissue and provide physical analysis of the organoid as it contracts and pulls on the posts.

The NHMRC and National Heart Foundation-funded team required ANFF-Q’s SU-8 photolithography techniques to make a mould for the post inserts.

“This was technically challenging at the start because the posts have a high aspect ratio of 700μm high with a 200×500μm base for our Heart-Dyno device features,” James explained.

“Working with ANFF enabled us to complete this project effectively, as our lab members could try different geometries and fabrication techniques so that we can now produce the Heart-Dyno with >99% success and reproducibility,” James said.

The researchers are now collaborating with industry partners to discover new therapies for patients with heart failure. They also want to commercialise the Heart-Dyno plates to make this culture system accessible to researchers in academia and also industry.

With easy-access to cardiac organoids, medical researchers can quickly investigate more treatments in greater depth.

“We have also fabricated multiple organoid types in our device (cardiac, skeletal muscle, and neural) so we believe that this culture device may also be useful to researchers outside of the cardiovascular field,” James added.