The heart is responsible for continuously pumping blood throughout your body, which delivers nutrients to your organs and takes away waste. When your heart isn’t working the way it should, the rest of your body can’t function properly either. Unfortunately, heart disease is still the leading cause of death in adults in the U.S. Because of this, scientists work tirelessly to discover better ways to help prevent and treat heart disease.
One of the ways that scientists have advanced the understanding of how the heart works is by developing devices that help make studying diseases of the heart faster, less expensive and easier. One example is called a “heart-on-a-chip.” Imagine a small computer chip the size of your thumb. Scientists can put heart cells on this chip and let it grow into a miniature “heart” that has a heartbeat. Research has shown that the heart-on-a-chip acts a lot like the heart in your body. Medications that slow down your heartbeat can also slow down the beating of the heart-on-a-chip.
The chips are small and relatively inexpensive to make. That means that in a very short period of time, they can be used to test how hundreds of different chemicals affect the heart. Studying how the heart works is also easier because the chips are outside the body. Scientists have used this method in many different ways to learn more about the heart and to test how different drugs can be used to treat heart disease.
In the future, it may be possible for doctors to use your own cells on a personalized heart-on-a-chip. This unique approach would help determine how you react to different drugs and tell your doctor which medications might work best to treat your specific condition. This would save time and money. It would also be less stressful on your body because you wouldn’t need take different drugs to find the one that’s the right fit.
February is American Heart Month. Learn more about how to raise awareness about the huge impact heart disease has on people in the U. S. on the American Hearth Month website. And don’t forget to wear red on Friday, February 7. Heart disease affects men and women differently. Go Red for Women is a global initiative to put an end to heart disease and stroke in women.
Dao H. Ho, PhD, is a biomedical research physiologist at Tripler Army Medical Center. The views expressed in this blog post are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the U.S. Department of the Army, U.S. Department of Defense or the U.S. government.