Team led by Prof. Milica Radisic designs ‘training gym’ for lab-grown heart cells

Heart muscle cells need exercise — even when they grow outside the human body. A new device designed by U of T Engineering researchers uses a rigorous training regimen to grow small amounts of cardiac tissue and measure how strongly it beats. The platform is ideal for testing the effects of potential drug molecules, and could help bring personalized medicine closer to reality.

“Many potential new drugs fail because of toxicity issues, and cardiac toxicity is a major challenge,” says Professor Milica Radisic (IBBME, ChemE), who led the research team. “You can test potential drugs on heart cells grown in a petri dish, but those cells don’t look the same as the cells in a real heart, and you can’t get much information about their actual cardiac function.”

Radisic and her collaborators build devices that enable lab-grown cells and tissues to develop into 3D forms that more closely resemble those in the human body. Five years ago, they created the Biowire, a platform in which heart cells grow around a silk suture. By pulsing electricity through the cells, the device causes them to elongate and become more like mature human heart cells.

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