Scientific Research Project Title

3D-Printed Scaffolds with Embedded Sensors for Non-Invasive Monitoring of Adult and Fetal Heart Tissue Models

Research Institution

Technical University of Denmark

DTU Nanotech – from Jan. 1st 2019 DTU Healthtech

RESEARCH FIELD

Biomedical engineering, materials science

CONTACT INFO

E-mail: joli@nanotech.dtu.dk
Phone: +45 42803802

Research leader

Johan Ulrik Lind

PhD, Assistant Professor, born 1983

Project title 

Living, bio-electronic models of the human adult and fetal heart

What is your project about?

Today, no method enables accurate prediction of whether a new drug or environmental toxin has a severe side effect towards the adult human heart, and towards the heart tissue of unborn children, in particular. In this project, we aim to replicate both the fetal cardiac muscle tissue as well the adult cardiac muscle, in the form of miniature muscles derived from human stem cells. Within these living tissue models, we will embed soft electronic sensors to allow for non-invasive monitoring of tissue development, as well as their response to e.g. medical compounds. To validate the platform we will test the effect of compounds that carry a risk of inducing defects in the cardiac muscle of newborn children. 

How did you become interested in your particular field of research?

My interest in the interplay between functional materials and living cells and tissue, stems from my days as a student of Nanotechnology at University of Copenhagen: Here, I first realized just how many interesting questions and technological opportunities that occur at the intersection between the classical disciplines. I once thought I was to become a classical physicist. Today I work with stem cells in gels, 3D-printing and soft electronics. 

What are the scientific challenges and perspectives in your project?

The biggest challenge of the project lies in accurately replicating adult and fetal heart muscle. In the underlying processes, both the molecular biological signaling compounds as well as the physio-chemical environment are critically important. To allow the customization of the cellular microenvironment I will rely on advanced 3D printing techniques. During my time at Harvard University, I co-developed a new approach to 3D printing of soft electronics, which will serve as mean to integrating sensors within the tissue models. The aim is to produce a platform that enables screening of a large number of compounds, but also enables the tailoring towards patient groups that e.g. carry a specific genetic defect. 

What is your estimate of the impact, which your project may have to society in the long term? 

Currently, animal models and tests are the foundation of all preclinical research. In addition to the ethical concerns that comes with such studies, animal models are far from perfect in their ability to predict clinical outcomes in human patients. Tools that enable new drugs and therapies to be evaluated in human tissue at the very onset of the drug-development pipeline has the potential to redefine preclinical research. Indeed, such tools may ultimately provide better therapies at a lower cost. Furthermore, they will provide unprecedented possibilities for tailor-made personalized medicine, and for identifying potentially severe side effects in groups that are currently excluded from our clinical studies: Pregnant women and their unborn children. 

Which impact do you expect the Sapere Aude programme will have on your career as a researcher?

The Sapere Aude programme will enable me to explore the most exciting and complex challenges and questions in my field. It provides exceptional support for the group I am now aiming to establish at DTU after several years abroad. It further provides me with a unique possibility to grow as a researcher, mentor and leader. It will further allow me to build strong collaborations within Danish academia, which will be central to perform interdisciplinary research of high international standards. 

Background and personal life

I grew up in southern Copenhagen with my siblings, a cat, and two parents in academia. The best lesson I learned from home was that science and research are not just something you find in the books, but rather something you can participate in, influence and shape. Today, I am married to Boline and together we have two daughters, Gertrud and Margrethe. After several years in Boston we now live in suburban Copenhagen, enjoying to be near family and old friends again.   

City of current residence
Copenhagen

High school
Sankt Annæ Gymnasium