Names carry weight. The names of prestigious institutions and prolific scientists offer credibility. So too do scientific (and pseudoscientific) monikers: “double-blind clinical trials” assure integrity through rigor, and “superfoods” assure immortality though public misconception. As with “superfoods,” are we too prone to letting our imaginations run wild with scientific hype? Human- and organ-on-a-chip technology commands attention with its abundant potential in drug development and disease research, but also with its name’s sci-fi mystique. (more…)
Science and technology are becoming more democratized, and more a part of public debate. At the same time, there is great distrust towards advanced biomedical and life sciences technology1. Public relations and controversy management are very important, but underrated, skills for scientists. It is a good practice to make a habit of imagining how a topic or technology may be presented by the media and perceived by the public. Organ on a chip devices may be a good exercise on how scientists could influence how their work may be received. (more…)
Humans have always been fascinated with reverse engineering, whether to create Frankenstein or artificial organs. This science fiction is slowly becoming a reality using the organ-on-chip and tissue engineering technology. In organ-on-chip technology, the physiological function of a human organ is closely mimicked inside a microfluidic channel. Tissue engineering may involve bio-printing of living cells inside a scaffold to mimic a whole organ. Both these technologies offer great promise for developing personalized medicine and studying disease models. The successful use of this technology will depend on the ability to maintain healthy cell environment and monitor biological processes inside microfluidic channels for an extended period of time (~2-4 weeks). By integrating sensors inside microfluidic channels, these parameters can be continuously monitored. The advantages of integrating sensors into microfluidic channels are: (more…)
Creating a miniaturized copy of yourself may sound crazy a decade ago, but not that much anymore – it is gradually realized by the organ-on-a-chip technology, little by little.
Imagine you get sick, you go to the doctor, who prescribes a medicine to you, most often empirically. You return to home, take the medicine, and heal. Or sometimes symptoms continue, or occasionally worsen. What do you do? You return to the doctor, complaining that the medicine does not work, and then receive another set of medicine, again very likely, by empiricism. The second medicine may heal you, or if unlucky, you may need to repeat this process for a few additional rounds prior to final recovery. Who knows. This scenario perhaps sounds familiar to most people, because it is how today’s medicine is practiced. A step forward, if the illness is much more serious than just a cold, modern technology may start to come into the play of its treatment. For example, patients with cancer typically receive molecular and genetic profiling to identify mutations, which are subsequently used to determine the class of drugs to prescribe. However, a biomarker often does not translate into a successful clinical response to the selected therapy. In a well-known case, cancer patients with wild-type KRAS protein are treated with Cetuximab, but only about 3 in 10 will ever respond to the drug, while the rest, unfortunately, instead of being cured, suffer side effects without noticeable benefits. (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…)
Drug discovery is a lengthy and costly endeavor. In fact, the cost of drug development has been rising year after year as result of a lack of physiological models that can accurately predict the effect of a drug in humans. Therefore, risky drugs may enter human clinical trials while promising drugs might be eliminated at early stages; both scenarios lead to a sizable financial loss. Organ-on-a-chip devices have emerged to combat this, and are poised to fill this gap where the conventional cell-based assays and animal testing fail1,2. These technologies build on sophisticated microfluidic systems to culture human cells in a precisely controlled microenvironment to coordinate cells to work together and to recapitulate organ-level function that would otherwise be difficult to mimic in a traditional monolayer culture environment. The ultimate goal is to accurately model human physiology for precision drug testing.