Milica Radisic, professor of biomedical engineering at the University of Toronto, imagines a future where we can build a “person-on-a-plate.” Her role? Growing functioning, beating heart tissue in a dish.
Radisic’s research focuses on using bioreactors and biomaterials to turn cardiomyocytes — 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 Radisic, clearly 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,” Radisic explains.“And in terms of this idea of personalized medicine, you can use these individualized heart tissues to test drugs for a specific patient.”
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”?
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. It’s going to be amazing!”