The name “stem” cells came from plant stems, which, despite their tiny size, have the capacity to produce flowers, leaves, branches, fruit, vegetables, and gigantic trees. In the same way, stem cells, although microscopic, contain the potential to develop into different body parts — to repair or replace diseased or injured cells. Stem cells can differentiate, which means they can become a retina or pancreas cells, skin cells or shin cells, cells specific to the nose or to the toes. Stem cells are sustained by a microfluidic environment of supporting blood vessels and channels for other fluids. And a stem cell’s microfluidic environment influences the decision about what body part it will become. (more…)
Harnessing the potential of microfluidics applications is underway in every corner of the globe, and stretching out to deep space as well.
In Japan, cancer researchers are building microfluidic chip cell sorters for capture and analysis of Circulating Tumor Cells (CTC), an endeavor that historically has ranged from challenging to impossible. Their “On‐chip Sort” detected and captured rare CTCs from patients with lung adenocarcinoma, which have typically been undetectable. Mutation detection using isolated CTCs is their next goal. (more…)
A Most Frequently Asked Question is posed in the May 2018 Cell Science headline: “Will Microfluidic Cell Culture Fulfill its Long-awaited Potential?” The article notes that the first research papers on microfluidic cell culture are now nineteen years old: “Microfluidic cell culture has now outgrown its infancy and is about to survive its teenage years. It has matured considerably but still needs to transition from academia into clinics and industry. Will it come of age?” Now that it’s ready to exit adolescence, how will it leave the academic nest? (more…)
The liver is the largest internal organ in the human body, and it fuels equally large dilemmas. The quandary of the liver transplant system, when there is only one organ donor but two terminally ill people who need it, is this: how are decisions made about who lives and who will die? Who “deserves” a liver transplant more? (more…)
In 2007, Doug Oliver nearly hit two pedestrians while driving his car, and then turned a corner and almost hit a third. He had not seen the pedestrians at all. A police officer gave him two choices: hand over your driver’s license or see an eye doctor. The doctor gave a chilling diagnosis: “At 45, I was legally blind. I went into shock,” Oliver said.
Oliver was born with good eyesight, but due to a hereditary condition, over a decade he had gradually lost much of his vision. For years his sight had been worsening until he underwent experimental stem cell surgery in a Florida-based treatment study. His vision loss was reversed by that surgery in 2015. “I went from legally blind to legal-to-drive in eight weeks,” said the Nashville, Tenn., man. (more…)
The impact of organoid research on popular culture is nowhere more evident than in the common ground between innovation and animal rights proponents. Organs-on-chips harbor the potential to reduce animal testing of new drugs and cosmetics. In 2017, the U.S. National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences funded 13 institutions with awards to develop tissue-on-chip models. Several of the awards mirror four-legged friends’ enduring goals.
Muscle disease is one example. One of the NCATS awards is for “Systemic Inflammation in Microphysiological Models of Muscle and Vascular Disease.” This Duke University project focuses on skeletal muscle and blood vessels. The models will replicate inflammation, in order to assess variation in responses to drugs. A similar award went to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center for “Development of a Microphysiological Organ-on-Chip System to Model Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis and Parkinson’s Disease,” to highlight novel biomarkers. There is no cure for ALS, a neurological condition that stops voluntary muscle movements including chewing, walking, talking and ultimately, breathing. Animal rights proponents welcome these endeavors because they have been vexed for years by the use of dogs for research that leaves them crippled with muscular dystrophy and unable to walk, swallow, or breathe. (more…)
When British neuroscientists began developing brain organoids to study autism and schizophrenia some years ago, their colleague Dr. Martin Coath, of the University of Plymouth, publicly stated that they were fueling a crisis: “A human brain that was ‘fully working’ would be conscious, have hopes, dreams, feel pain, and would ask questions about what we were doing to it.”
Fears akin to Coath’s have trended ever since Mary Shelley wrote “Frankenstein” in 1818. While it is unlikely that organoids will be asking what we’re doing to them anytime soon, it is likely that they will be doing some space traveling.
The U.S. Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS), in collaboration with the U.S. National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS) and the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering (NIBIB), plan to study organs-on-chips onboard the International Space Station-National Laboratory (ISS-NL). Data from this effort will contribute to research about microphysiological systems technologies. (more…)