Pumping up the Beat

Professor Milica Radisic’s lab engineers the future of drug-testing growing heart tissue from human cells.

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Prof. Milica Radisic, a bioengineer at the University of Toronto and Canada Research Chair in Functional Cardiovascular Tissue Engineering, imagines a future where we can build a “person-on-a-plate”. Her role? Growing functioning, beating heart tissue in a dish.

Prof. Radisic’s research focuses on using bioreactors and biomaterials to turn cardiomyocytes, your beating heart cells, into tissue that looks and behaves like a normal adult human heart. These bioreactors and biomaterials work like a gym for the cells.   “After about 2 to 4 weeks you end up with a piece of tissue that’s beating and it behaves in many ways like heart tissue from a person,” says Prof. Radisic, clearly still excited by the idea.

These lab-grown tissues can then be used for drug testing. “You could start from skin cells from a certain person and then tailor make the tissue for them. And in terms of this idea of personalized medicine, you can use these individualized heart tissues to test drugs for a specific patient,” Prof. Radisic explains. This is especially important for patients that are already very sick or patients with specific genetic diseases. Those things would be reflected in a personalized heart tissue whereas they would be ignored in traditional drug testing methods.

So what is a “person-on-a-plate”? Prof. Radisic describes it as a “plate that has different organ compartments in it, and then you can apply drugs and study interaction between these drugs and different organ compartments.” She says it’s going to be amazing, and I believe her!

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Dr. Milica Radisic is a Professor at the University of Toronto and Canada Research Chair (Tier 2) in Functional Cardiovascular Tissue Engineering. She obtained B.Eng. from McMaster University in 1999, and Ph.D. form the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2004, both in Chemical Engineering. Dr. Radisic received numerous awards and fellowships, including MIT Technology Review Top 35 Innovators under 35.  In 2010, she was named “The One to Watch” by the Scientist and the Toronto Star; she also received McMaster Arch Award. She was a recipient of the Professional Engineers Ontario-Young Engineer Medal in 2011, Engineers Canada Young Engineer Achievement Award in 2012, Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal in 2013 and NSERC E.W.R Steacie Fellowship in 2014.  In 2014 she was elected to the Royal Society of Canada, College of New Scholars, Artists and Scientists and in 2015 she became a Fellow of the AIMBE. The long term objective of Dr. Radisic’s research is to enable cardiovascular regeneration through tissue engineering and development of new biomaterials.  Her research interests also include microfluidic cell separation and development of in vitro models for drug testing. Currently, Dr. Radisic holds research funding from CIHR, NSERC, CFI, ORF, NIH, and the Heart and Stroke Foundation. She is an Associate Editor for ACS Biomaterials Science & Engineering and a member of Editorial Board of Tissue Engineering. She serves on CIHR BME panel. She is actively involved with BMES (Cardiovascular Track Chair in 2013 and 2104) and TERMIS-AM (Council member, Chair of the Membership Committee). Her research findings were presented in over 100 research papers, reviews and book chapters with h-index of 39 and over 5000 citations.  She is co-founder of a start-up company TARA Biosystems focused on the use of engineered tissues in drug development.