Developing an Organoid on a Chip for Cardiac Research | Cell Culture Surface | Corning

The advent of organs on chips could dramatically accelerate drug development. But not every biological challenge can be solved by using a specific arrangement of cell cultures organized by a synthetic environment. Some cell cultures, like the cardiac cells that power the heart's all-important pumping action, require a more specialized approach.

This is where organoid on a chip technology comes in.

An organoid is a synthetic model that simulates the in vivo environment for a group of cells. An organoid on a chip provides this environment and buttresses it with useful experimental tools and automation built into a single platform. In the case of a cardiac organoid on a chip, embedded electrodes can read the electrical activity of the cell culture in three dimensions and report readings to researchers.

This electrode-enabled innovation, called an organ on an electronic chip, could revolutionize the study of cardiac electrophysiology, and bring lifesaving treatments to market much more quickly.

How Do Organs on Electronic Chips Work?

The most important thing about a cardiac organ on a chip is that it both promotes healthy cell growth and takes noninvasive readings of the activity of those cells over time. Cardiac cells contract in response to electronic signals from so-called pacemaker cells, which dictate heart rate. Cardiac cultures aren't nearly as useful to researchers if they can't effectively read cardiac cell responsiveness to electrical activity in real time.

Reading elements include electrical coils that protrude into the culture and ribbonlike sensors shrink-wrapped around the culture. Direct reading of electrical activity is the only way to see the effect of different chemical treatments without having to wait for a visible change in the physiology of the cells.

Just as important as the ability to read electrical function is the ability to measure the physical contractions caused by that electrical activity. There are physical and optical options for watching cell movements and estimating the contractile force, and many of them are simultaneous with the above electrical assays.

Providing Cardiac Insight

Heart cells are in a small class of cells that are almost totally intolerant of disease. A momentary lapse in function or a small decrease in functional efficiency can lead to cardiac irregularity — possibly even death. Without the ability to read cardiac electrical activity, it's difficult to tell which treatments are effective and which aren't because the cells have to provide visible signals about their health.

Like all organ-on-a-chip techniques, organoids on an electronic chip can get around the traditional sluggishness of drug discovery by providing efficient synthetic alternatives to whole-body mammalian models — rats, for example. By slashing the time and cost between treatment and observable functional change, researchers can take a shotgun approach to drug development — that is, they can try most of the plausible combinations of growth factors without bogging down the overall process with time-consuming trials.

Organs on chips don't eliminate the need for multiple trials, but they do accelerate each trial. Organoids on chips do the same thing, but the experimental results are more sophisticated.

Better Tools, Better Treatments

Heart disease has confounded the medical profession largely because the heart is so intolerant of even momentary lapses in function. To meet this challenge, researchers need tools that are just as agile as the problem. Using an electrically sensitive organoid on a chip, researchers might finally have that tool at their disposal. A faster, more efficient tool means far less time spent waiting for rats to mature — and far less time (and stress) dissecting them.

Direct reading of electrophysiological activity allows for quick, effective decision-making about whether to continue a line of research, which in turn lets researchers move toward effective treatments more quickly. In the context of cardiac medicine, this could enable much more effective drug discovery and a better direct understanding of tissue biology.