My latest piece about an ‘organ-on-a-chip’ project was a July 26, 2012 posting titled Organ chips for DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) featuring the Wyss Institute (which pops up again in the latest news I have from the University of British Columbia [UBC; located in Vancouver, Canada)]). First, here’s more about that 2012 announcement,,
The Wyss Institute will receive up to $37M US for a project that integrates ten different organ-on-a-chip projects into one system. From the July 24, 2012 news release on EurekAlert,
With this new DARPA funding, Institute researchers and a multidisciplinary team of collaborators seek to build 10 different human organs-on-chips, to link them together to more closely mimic whole body physiology, and to engineer an automated instrument that will control fluid flow and cell viability while permitting real-time analysis of complex biochemical functions. As an accurate alternative to traditional animal testing models that often fail to predict human responses, this instrumented “human-on-a-chip” will be used to rapidly assess responses to new drug candidates, providing critical information on their safety and efficacy.
This unique platform could help ensure that safe and effective therapeutics are identified sooner, and ineffective or toxic ones are rejected early in the development process. As a result, the quality and quantity of new drugs moving successfully through the pipeline and into the clinic may be increased, regulatory decision-making could be better informed, and patient outcomes could be improved.
Jesse Goodman, FDA Chief Scientist and Deputy Commissioner for Science and Public Health, commented that the automated human-on-chip instrument being developed “has the potential to be a better model for determining human adverse responses. FDA looks forward to working with the Wyss Institute in its development of this model that may ultimately be used in therapeutic development.”
It’s nice to see that there’s interest in this area of research at UBC. From the Dec. 30, 2013 UBC news release by Gian-Paolo Mendoza which describes James Feng’s (professor in biological and chemical engineering) interest in the future possibilities offered by ‘organ-on-a-chip’ research,
“The potential is tremendous,” says Feng. “The main impact of organs grown this way will be on the design of drugs; the understanding of the pathological processes.”
Dr. Feng’s group carries out research in three broad areas: mechanics of biological cells and tissues, interfacial fluid dynamics, and mechanics and rheology of complex fluids.
The group has an inter-disciplinary flavour–crosscutting applied mathematics, cell biology, soft-matter physics and chemical and biomedical engineering—that is well-suited for exploring this burgeoning technology.
Feng cites a Harvard study [Ed. Note: This is the work being done at the Wyss Institute] using a small silicon device that holds a thin layer of real cell membranes capable of producing motion similar to the heaving and breathing of a lung.
Organ models designed this way have the potential to be more accurate in drug and treatment trials, says Feng, as they can better mimic the functions of human organs, as opposed to animal models which are the current research standard.
“It’s more controlled and you can simplify the process much faster,” said Feng.
“Harvard researchers also injected drugs into their chip model to see how it changed its behaviour and to see the tissue’s reaction to mechanical or chemical disturbance,” he added.
“It’s very important for drug design and discovery and the pharmaceutical industry would be tremendously interested in that.”
In addition, organs on a chip present a less controversial option for organ model testing compared to stem cell research. According to Feng, this is because their ultimate goals are very different from each other.
“The research that tried to grow organs directly from stem cells is aiming for eventually implantable organs,” he said. “The idea of making the chip is to work toward replacing animal models, so as to be more accurate and realistic like human organs. While the ability to replicate a complex human organ function remains far off, the direction appeals to anyone who is hoping to reduce the use of animals in research.”
Here’s the ‘lung-on-a-chip’ video the Wyss Institute has produced,
By contrast with ‘organ-on-a-chip’, the ‘lab-on-a-chip’ does not simulate the action of organs responding to various experimental therapeutic measures but makes standard testing and diagnostic procedures, such as blood tests, much faster, cheaper, and, in some cases, much less invasive as per my February 15, 2011 posting which included some information about a local (Vancouver, Canada) project, the PROOF.(Prevention of Organ Failure) Centre.
The ‘organ-on-a-chip’ will help make clinical trials easier and faster according to Feng (from the news release),
Feng says this kind of organ testing offers the possibility of greatly reducing cost and time required for clinical trials.
“By using computer simulations we can generate results and insights, and run virtual tests much more easily and quickly,” he says.
“We can test maybe hundreds or thousands of designs of organ chips to be able to tell you whether you should try those ten designs instead of the hundreds one by one.”
Feng, who has a background in aerospace engineering, says this new bio-technology has the potential to transform the development of artificial organs and drugs the way computer simulations have replaced the use of wind tunnels for designing aircrafts.
“That used to be the dominant mode of designing crafts,” he said, “but that’s being replaced by online computer simulations because we understand the principles of aerodynamics so well.”
There’s also recognition that UBC is a little late to the ‘party’,
While UBC’s efforts in the field are in the early stages, Feng is reaching out to researchers from other backgrounds. He will be inviting leading scientists to UBC in July 2014 for a workshop that will centre on the growth of artificial organs and computer simulations. He is also exploring ideas of his own.
“I have a collaboration with an engineering colleague on how to use the microfluidic chip, the technology used to emulate the lung in the Harvard study, as a way of measuring malaria-infected red cells,” he said, suggesting that this is just one of the countless ways this new technology could be used to fuel future innovation.
And since it’s Friday (Jan. 3, 2014), I thought it was time for a music video, and Pink’s ‘Let’s get the party started’ seems to fit the bill,,
Have a good first weekend of the year 2014!