Scientists at York University have created 3D heart tissue that beats in synchronized harmony. They are hoping that this step will lead to better understanding of cardiac health and ultimately help develop improved treatments.

Professor Muhammad Yousaf from the York University’s Faculty of Science, worked with a team of graduate students to formulate a way to join three different types of cardiac cells. This joining will make the heart tissue beat as one.

Before this research, most 2D and 3D in vitro tissue did not beat in harmony and required a framework for the cells to hold onto and grow. This caused severe limitations in the study of cardiac health. Yousaf and his team used three cell types found in the heart – vascular cells, connective tissue cells and contractile cardiac muscle cells. They managed to join these types of cells without any supporting framework, resulting in the tissue beating as one.

3-D tissue shown using 3-D fluorescent imaging, where many cells laid down sequentially to make attached layers of alternating cell types like membranes in the human body. (Image Credit: York University)

Yousaf’s team believes that this is the first 3D in vitro cardiac tissue with different cell types that is able to beat together as one unit, rather than at different intervals. He noted that the innovation will allow better and earlier drug testing and could potentially eradicate harmful or toxic medications sooner. The substance used to stick the cells together (ViaGlue), will also make tools available to researchers. These can be used to create and test 3D in vitro cardiac tissue to study heart disease and issues with transplantation in their own labs.

Forty percent of deaths in North America are caused by cardiovascular associated diseases and they are the leading cause of death globally.

Dmitry Rogozhnikov, a chemistry PhD student at York, noted that because of the high density of muscularity and cells of the heart, creating in vitro 3D cardiac tissue has long been a challenge to scientists. The tissue used must have the same high cellular density and the different cell types must be in contact to enable synchronized beating before 2D or 3D cardiac tissue is able to be functional.

Yousaf has created a start-up company, OrganoLinX, to commercialize the ViaGlue reagent and to provide custom 3D tissues on demand. He added that although the 3D cardiac tissue was created at a millimeter scale for the research, bigger versions could easily be made.