The number of donor organs available nationwide still falls short of the number of patients in need. Through the work of tissue engineering, researchers are working on ways to improve development of artificial organs, which could one day replace the real thing and make waiting lists for organs a thing of the past.

Now a technique used in building integrated circuits is being harnessed to form three-dimensional scaffolds on which tissues can be grown. The tissue mimics the structural quality of heart tissue called anisotropy and could be used to grow or regrow specific tissue in people who have damage or congenital defects.

VIDEO: Tissue Engineering

Lisa E. Freed, the principal investigator for the project at Draper Laboratory and MIT, and Martin E. Kolewe, a post doctoral associate at MIT’s Institute of Medical Engineering and Science, adapted a layer-by-layer assembly method commonly used in the electronics industry.

They started with thin sheet of a porous polymer known as biorubber, which contains microscopic holes at regular intervals. Using a programmable machine, Freed and Kolewe precisely stacked the biorubber sheets one by one, aligning the pores. According to an article on Technology Review, the researchers “systematically tested various pore patterns and demonstrated ones that could produce ‘interwoven muscle-like bundles’ out of mouse muscle cells and rat neonatal heart cells.”

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What’s more, the heart cells beat in response to electrical stimulation.

Although there are still some challenges to overcome, namely making the tissue thicker so that it can support blood vessels, the relatively simple system Freed and Kolewe have developed has opened up new opportunities since it offers such precise control of arranging the network of pores.

Credit: MIT