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The AstroCardia project

Understanding the human heart is an enormous challenge. The scientists at AstroCardia are now using an innovative technique called ‘heart-on-a-chip’ to tackle this problem.

Launching a heart-on-a-chip model

Imagine a tiny chip just a few square millimeters in size, on which heart muscle cells can be printed using special biomaterials and stem cells that have the incredible ability to develop into any cell in the body. These cells begin to divide and self-organize, mimicking the development of a real human heart!

With an artificial vascular network

To make it even more astonishing, the AstroCardia scientists have created an artificial network of blood vessels around this mini heart. This network delivers essential nutrients, oxygen, and stimuli, supporting the heart as it grows and eventually starts beating.

Into space

The real excitement? We are planning to send these heart-on-a-chip structures to space where ageing processes are significantly accelerated. Up there, researchers will closely monitor them in real-time, observing how they react in this unique environment with zero-gravity and increased radiation. Once they return to Earth, scientists will conduct in-depth analyses to further understand how these hearts function and age.
The goal

Establishing a scientific model for heart ageing

The ultimate goal of this groundbreaking research is to develop a heart-on-chip model to study the effects of the space environment on the heart and to understand how they relate to cardiac ageing on Earth. If successful, this could revolutionize our understanding of heart health and potentially lead to new discoveries and treatments for heart-related issues.

Imagine the potential impact: gaining invaluable insights into heart diseases and ageing, thanks to these innovative heart-on-a-chip models. This is a thrilling step towards unlocking the mysteries of the human heart and improving our cardiovascular health. The future looks promising as science reaches new heights, literally and figuratively, sending tiny hearts to space to unlock the secrets of our most vital organ!

Beating heart cells (green) in a 3d printed gelatin environment(blue)

Captivating heart cells in a cup to position them in a vascular network to feed them

Bio Ink

3D bioprinting in a chip

To create a 3D bioprint of a miniature heart, specialized materials are an absolute necessity. This includes a 3D bioprinter with micrometric precision, living stem cells, and “bio-ink.” These stem cells, which develop into a mini-organ, need to be printable and held together. 

The project relies on the expertise of the Belgian start-up BIO INX for this purpose.

It’s like building a wall. The stem cells are the bricks, and the bio-ink is the mortar. Bio-ink is a type of gel that makes cells printable and allows them to survive during and after printing,” says Jasper Van Hoorick, CEO at BIO INX.


Frequently Asked Questions

Project Overview

This project aims to create heart-on-a-chip models to better understand the ageing process by making use of the ageing acceleration in the space environment, discovering new drugs, and developing treatments. This research will also help in tailoring medical care for individuals both here on Earth and in space. If successful, it will offer a special way to study heart ageing and how drugs can be used for treatment.

Altogether, this project brings innovative solutions to multiple current challenges that will change the landscape of research at Pharma and Biotech industries in Flanders. The long-term collective objective is to allow for testing of drugs and treatments on this mature human-derived heart-on-chip under accelerated ageing conditions in space and eventually – beyond the timeframe of this project – to provide a service of Contract Research Organization (CRO) to Biotech and Pharma, making use of this organ-on-chip hosting platform in space.

Heart Organoid Research

Examining a living human heart and all the processes associated with it permanently in depth is practically impossible. Therefore, the researchers bio-printed a miniature heart in a chip with an artificial blood vessel system around it.

This is called a ‘heart-on-a-chip’: a chip of a few square millimeters on which heart muscle cells are printed. The ‘ink’ consists of biomaterials and stem cells that can develop into any possible cell in the body. The cells begin to divide and organize themselves into a developing human heart – a so-called heart organoid. An artificial circulatory system feeds that heart with stimuli, oxygen, and other nutrients until it matures and begins to beat. That’s where the consortium can conduct tests.

Our heart changes as we age. It slowly gets bigger and stiffer, the artery calcifies, and pumping power declines. In space, factors such as stress, microgravity, and radiation cause those ageing processes to occur faster. So in space, we fast-forward through time. And that gives us the unique opportunity to obtain research results that we simply cannot obtain here on Earth.

Space Launch

We are building an organ-on-chip hosting platform in which this heart-on-a-chip will be accommodated for its first demo space mission to the International Space Station in 2025.

Yes, there are! We need to make sure that the heart organoids on the chip have all the conditions they require at all times. We need to provide the right temperature, for the nutrient medium, for oxygen, …. Growing heart-on-a-chip models under the right conditions is not easy on Earth; ensuring all these conditions in a space environment is even more challenging. Fortunately, the AstroCardia team has the expertise needed to make that happen.