Scientists have created a 3D-printed heart which can monitor its own rhythms.
The Harvard team behind the technology, known as a microphysiological system, said it represents a promising alternative to animal testing.
According to their study, it could pave the way for organs-on-chips which mimic the properties of specific diseases or even an individual patient’s cells.
“Our microfabrication approach opens new avenues for in vitro tissue engineering, toxicology and drug screening research,” said Kit Parker, co author and professor of bioengineering and applied physics at Harvard.
The researchers had previously developed 3D printed organs which replicate the microarchitecture and functions of lungs, tongues and intestines.
But the previous methods for engineering and collecting data from these organs were “laborious” and expensive”, according to the research.
The devices are normally built in clean rooms using a complex, multi-step 3D printing process, while the data requires microscopy or high-speed cameras.
“Our approach was to address these two challenges simultaneously via digital manufacturing,” said Travis Busbee, coauthor of the paper and Harvard graduate student.
“By developing new printable inks for multi-material 3D printing, we were able to automate the fabrication process while increasing the complexity of the devices.”
The research forms part of a growing body of work looking at how 3D printing could revolutionise medicine.
Earlier this year, a cancer patient became the first person to receive a 3D printed jaw.