A system developed by researchers from the Institute for Bioengineering of Catalonia (IBEC) and the Centre of Regenerative Medicine in Barcelona (CMR[B]) is capable of producing tissues in a laboratory that simulate the behaviour of the human heart. The tissues produced by this bioengineering system could be used to pre-evaluate the toxicity of drugs in the heart without using animal models.
Cardiovascular diseases are currently one of the leading causes of death worldwide. However, the factors that motivate or accentuate such heart diseases sometimes hide behind relatively unknown elements. Among other causes, drugs that are useful for curing or alleviating certain diseases can, at the same time, have side effects on other organs such as the heart, which experts refer to as cardiotoxicity.
It is for this reason that having laboratory models that help us to better understand the physiology of the heart or to evaluate the cardiotoxicity of drugs can be extremely helpful when developing new drugs or therapies such as, for example, regenerative medicine. However, the production of tissues in a laboratory that are capable of behaving similarly to the human heart is still a challenge.
In this context, researchers from the Institute of Bioengineering (IBEC) in collaboration with the Centre of Regenerative Medicine in Barcelona (CMR[B]), have announced in an article recently published in the journal Stem Cell Reports, a new bioengineering system that could represent a major breakthrough in this field.
The new platform, named CardioSlice, is capable of producing cardiac tissues with very special properties from human pluripotent stem cells (PSC) and three-dimensional matrices. And, according to the researchers, the artificial tissues obtained with CardioSlice are capable of beating autonomously, they produce an electrical signal similar to an electrocardiogram and they respond to drugs in the same way that a human heart does. To this end, scientists and engineers at IBEC and CMR[B] have designed and built a parallel chain of bioreactors that allow for the stimulation, observation and in situ study of the electrophysiology of the resulting tissue, as well as the impact of external factors such as, for example, drugs with cardiotoxic effects.
In the words of Elena Martínez, principle investigator at IBEC and professor at the University of Barcelona (UB): “CardioSlice is like a mini-factory of tissues that could help us to discern which medicines can harm our heart.”
Researchers have shown in several videos that the level of complexity of the tissues that CardioSlice allows them to obtain is observed in the spontaneous activity of these tissues in the form of contractions and signals analogous to those of an electrocardiogram (ECG). “The advanced analysis of the electrophysiological signal of CardioSlice allows us to quantify changes in the ECG due to a drug’s effect, identifying changes in the heart rhythm, the appearance of ectopic QRS or the prolongation of the QT interval”, explains Raimon Jané, principal investigator of the Processes and Interpretation of Biomedical Signals group at the IBEC and professor at the Polytechnic University of Catalonia (UPC).
According to the authors of the article, “the physiological relevance of the tissues produced by CardioSlice, together with its scalable nature and the function of online electrophysiological monitoring, make our technology be at the forefront of the production of human cardiac macrotissues designed to date.”
This study was carried out in collaboration with scientists from three groups at the Institute for Bioengineering of Catalonia (IBEC), researchers from the Centre of Regenerative Medicine in Barcelona (CMR[B]), the University of Barcelona (UB), the Polytechnic University of Catalonia (UPC) and the Biomedical Research Networking Centre in the thematic area of Bioengineering, Biomaterials and Nanomedicine (CIBER-BBN).
Referenced article: Valls-Margarit et al., Engineered macroscale cardiac constructs elicit human myocardial tissue-like functionality. Stem Cells Report, volume 13, issue 1, p207-220 (2019).