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!