Experts from Southeast University have developed a “heart chip” that eliminates animal experimentation and clinical trials

Experts from Southeast University have developed a “heart chip” that eliminates the necessity for animal experimentation and clinical trials, and greatly reduces new drug development costs.

News from Southeast University on April 2nd: Professor Yuanjin Zhao, a researcher from Southwest University’s National Key Laboratory of Bioelectronics, has made important progress devising the “organ chip.” For the first time in the world, a color-changing “heart chip” has been developed. The change of color monitors the heart’s response to different drugs, thereby eliminating the necessity for animal and clinical trials. The “heart chip” provides a brand new platform for drug screening and R&D, which can greatly reduce the cost of new drug development.

“Organ chip” refers to building micro-organs bionically on micro-fluidic chips to replace living organisms for drug evaluation and biological research. It is one of the hottest new tools in biological research. As an important development trend in the construction of future evaluation systems for new drugs, “organ microchips” are of great strategic importance in supporting the development of innovative drug research and translational medicine in China.

The heart is the body’s most important organ. The construction of a “heart chip” with cardiac cell sensing is an important part of the development of “organ microchips.” Professor Yuanjin Zhao’s team at Southeast University was inspired by the regulation of chameleon cells’ structural colors. As a result, they pioneered the construction of “heart chips” with structural color sensing.

heart chip prof
Professor Yuanjin Zhao of Southeast University is explaining the heart chip.

Researchers combine gels with special optical structures with living cardiomyocytes. After the cells are fixed and grown on a jelly-like hydrogel surface, their contraction and relaxation can drive the gel film to undergo shape changes. As the arrangement of crystals inside the gel changes, the interference effect between the reflected light changes. Therefore, the beating state of cardiomyocytes can be directly represented by different colors. Subsequently, the heart’s reaction can be monitored by color changes in the chip, thus constructing a “heart chip” that can visualize micro-physiological function.

It is known that the “organ chips” developed by top international research institutions include lung, intestine, and kidney chips. The color-changing “heart chip” developed by Professor Zhao’s research team is unprecedented. It possesses unique advantages in the evaluation of new myocardial-related drugs and disease research. It is faster, more economical, and less invasive than conventional clinical trials. It can significantly reduce the cost of research and the development of new drugs. Moreover, it represents a breakthrough in China’s development of key technological platforms for innovative drug research. It has been expected to accelerate China’s pace as a country strong in pharmaceutical science and technology.

The results of this study, titled “Living Structural Color Materials,” were published in Science on March 29th. This was the first time for Chinese scholars to complete a paper independently in the journal.

Information and photos obtained from

Translated by Sherry Yao, edited by Riley Peng @ Animal Dialogue

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