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Webcam technology used to measure medications' effects on the heart

Researchers use basic webcam technology to measure the effects of medications on the heart in real time

A common component in webcams may help drug makers and prescribers address a common side-effect of drugs called cardiotoxicity, an unhealthy change in the way the heart beats. Researchers at Brigham and Women's Hospital (BWH) have used the basic webcam technology to create a tool to look at the effects of medications in real time on heart cells, called cardiomyocytes. These findings were published in the journal, Lab on a Chip on April 11, 2011.

Researchers developed a cost-effective, portable cell-based biosensor for real time cardiotoxicity detection using an image sensor from a webcam. They took cardiomyocytes, derived from mouse stem cells, and introduced the cells to different drugs. Using the biosensor, the researchers were able to monitor the beating rate of the cardiomyocytes in real time and detect any drug-induced changes in the beating rates.

The technology provides a simple approach to perform evaluative studies of different drugs effects on cardiac cells. Cardiotoxicity is a significant problem in drug development, with more than 30 percent of drugs withdrawn from the market between 1996 to 2006 related to cardiac dysfunction. "Assessing the toxic effects of new drugs during the early phases of drug development can accelerate the drug discovery process, resulting in significant cost and time savings, and leading to faster treatment discovery," said Ali Khademhosseini, PhD, of the Center for Biomedical Engineering at the Department of Medicine at BWH.

"This technology could also play a role in personalized medicine," said Sang Bok Kim, PhD, a Research Fellow in the Renal Division at BWH. "By first extracting somatic cells from patients which can be reprogrammed to stem cells called induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells. Then these iPS cells can be differentiated into cardiac cells to be studied, the biosensor can monitor the cardiac cells as they're introduced to a medication, providing a glimpse at how the drugs may affect the individual's heart, and thus shaping the treatment plan for that person."

Monitoring cardiac cells in the past required using expensive equipment that had a limited measurement area. This low cost (less than $10) biosensor is compatible with conventional equipment but will enable reliable, yet faster and more cost-effective studies.

"Our next goal is to combine our detection sensor with our microwell arrays and perform screening studies of thousands of drugs to cardiac cells simultaneously in a fast and reliable manner," said Dr. Khademhosseini.

Brigham and Women's Hospital (BWH) is a 793-bed nonprofit teaching affiliate of Harvard Medical School and a founding member of Partners HealthCare, an integrated health care delivery network. BWH is the home of the Carl J. and Ruth Shapiro Cardiovascular Center, the most advanced center of its kind. BWH is committed to excellence in patient care with expertise in virtually every specialty of medicine and surgery. The BWH medical preeminence dates back to 1832, and today that rich history in clinical care is coupled with its national leadership in quality improvement and patient safety initiatives and its dedication to educating and training the next generation of health care professionals. Through investigation and discovery conducted at its Biomedical Research Institute (BRI),, BWH is an international leader in basic, clinical and translational research on human diseases, involving more than 900 physician-investigators and renowned biomedical scientists and faculty supported by more than $537 M in funding. BWH is also home to major landmark epidemiologic population studies, including the Nurses' and Physicians' Health Studies and the Women's Health Initiative. For more information about BWH, please visit

Holly Brown-Ayers | EurekAlert!
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