Doctors at the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine are using miniature human organs that have been produced with a modified 3D printer to test new vaccines.

The “body on a chip” project has been backed by the US Department of Defense with $24 million. These are the first tests to combine several organs on the same device, which then model the human response to chemical toxins or biological agents.

3D printed miniature organs

Structures that mimic the functions of the heart, lung, liver and bloood vessels with human cells are placed onto a microchip and connected with a blood substitute, similar to the type used in trauma surgery. This substitute keeps the cells alive and is also used as a carrier for the chemical or biological agents and potential therapies that will enter the system.

Dr Anothony Atala, institute director at Wake Forest said, “You are actually testing human tissue. It works better than testing on animals.”

Dr Atala also explained that the bioprinting technology was first used to build tissue and organs for replacement in patients. At Wake Forest, the team has managed to successfully replicate skin, blood vessels and even organs like the bladder and stomach. But organs like the heart or kidney have been the biggest achievement yet.

“There are so many cells per centimetre that making a big organ is quite complex,” said Dr Atala. It take 30 minutes to print a minature heart the size of a small biscuit.

The US Department of Defense are hoping that these tests will “significantly decrease the time and cost needed to develop medical countermeasures” for bioterrorism attacks said Dr Clint Florence from the Translational Medical Division at DTRA. Wake Forest said it was able to test for antidotes to sarin gas, recently used against civilians in Syria.

[Image via Live Science]