Joe Alexander, MD, PhD, director of NTT Research’s Medical & Health Informatics (MEI) Lab.

NTT Research said it will partner with the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) to develop both living and digital heart models.

NTT Research said its Medical & Health Informatics (MEI) Lab has entered a three-year joint research agreement with SEAS’ Disease Biophysics Group (DBG).

Through their collaboration, the partners plan to collaborate on engineering a living human heart model, elucidate fundamental laws of muscular pumps, and apply the lessons they learn to a cardiovascular (CV) bio-digital twin model.

The partners will apply “organ-on-a-chip” or microphysiological systems that have given researchers at Harvard’s DBG an in vitro method of testing therapeutics in cells reprogrammed to an embryonic-like pluripotent state that recapitulates a disease of interest.

In nearly two decades of working toward the goal of engineering a human heart, the DBG has used human stem cell-derived cardiac myocytes to understand how to build muscular pumps and their fundamental design laws.

The collaboration will also use bioelectrodes developed by the MEI Lab to interface with cells and tissues, in order to accelerate the development of an in vitro CV bio-digital twin. The joint research effort aims to elucidate structure-function relationships of the heart that may have been overlooked in previous research.


Kevin Kit Parker, PhD, leader of the Disease Biophysics Group at the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences.

Kevin Kit Parker, PhD, leads DBG, an interdisciplinary team that specializes in building micro-physiological systems designed to approximate the physiology and pathophysiology of the human heart. Parker is also a U.S. Army officer now assigned as reserve faculty, department of chemistry and life sciences at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.

“There needs to be a strong relationship between people building models, like the MEI Lab, and the organs-on-chip people, like ourselves,” Parker said in a statement. “This joint research project will help ensure a productive interchange between experimental design, the parameter values that we generate, and the development of the CV bio-digital twin model.”

Leading the collaboration for NTT Research as directing investigator is Tetsuhiko Teshima, PhD, a research scientist at the MEI Lab and visiting researcher in the Neuroelectrical Group within the Munich School of BioEngineering at the Technical University of Munich (TUM).

NTT Research is a Sunnyvale, CA-based division of NTT, a Tokyo-based global technology and business solutions provider established as Nippon Telegraph and Telephone.

Expert joins collaboration

Ryoma Ishii, a research scientist within the MEI Lab at NTT Research.

NTT Research also said that it had added Ryoma Ishii, an expert in organ-on-chip science and technology, as a new research scientist within the MEI Lab staff. Ishii—who has been a visiting scientist at Harvard since December 2019—will serve as an investigator on the bio-digital twin heart project, along with MEI Lab’s director Joe Alexander, MD, PhD.

“[The Parker] group’s long-term goal of engineering a living, functional heart maps well with our CV bio-digital twin initiative. Together, we hope to investigate and challenge tenets of cardiac physiology that may be based more on lore than experimental verification,” Alexander stated.

At Harvard, Ishii has conducted organ-on-a-chip research, combining a microfluidic chip and cell analysis system. In his joint role with Harvard and NTT Research, he is collecting electrophysiological data of in vitro heart models, screening a suitable polymer for the surface of electrodes to measure the electrophysiology of the models, and supporting the joint research project in other ways.

“My motivating dream has been to revolutionize healthcare worldwide through regenerative and preventative medicine, and the ambitious research of these two distinguished research organizations aligns perfectly with that personal goal,” Ishii added.

The collaboration with Harvard expands upon NTT Research’s joint research with the university. Earlier this year, NTT Research’s Physics & Informatics (PHI) Lab announced a joint research agreement with scientists at Harvard to study animal neuro-responses with the hope of informing future artificial intelligence systems.

Harvard is one of several academic partners of the MEI Lab, whose ongoing research includes work on multi-scale precision cardiology platforms, and heart-on-a-chip technology aimed at developing the infrastructure for a digital replica of an individual’s heart. The MEI Lab has also undertaken joint research with the Neuroelectrical Group at the Technical University of Munich and the National Cerebral and Cardiovascular Center (NCVC) in Osaka, Japan.

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