Human-on-a-Chip: using tissue engineering to replicate the human body
Mar 12, 2018 Dr Nadia Tsao
An application of tissue engineering that is rapidly growing is the building of organ-on-a-chip devices. Previously, IDTechEx have published a report on the opportunities for tissue engineering, and an article on its use in the advancement of medicine.
In simplistic terms, organ-on-a-chip devices are miniaturized tissues cultured on microfluidic chips in a manner to mimic living tissue. The mimicry is enhanced by the ability to perfuse blood-like fluids into or past the miniaturized organs, as to replicate physiological processes in vitro. The tissue response on organ-on-a-chip devices have the potential to be more life-like and thus more relevant, especially in comparison to previous preclinical testing methods such as 2D cell culture and animal studies. Cells and tissues behave very differently in 2D than in their native 3D form in vivo, and animal models are only a rough approximation to actual human responses.
The study of systemic responses of the human body can be modeled by linking up multiple miniaturized tissues together. The more organs included in the chip, the more the chip becomes a human-on-a-chip, and thus more able to serve as predictive model of human responses to pathogens, medicines, and chemicals. This is because the human-on-a-chip device will look at the response of the entire human body, rather than at one or two tissues or organs at a time. Dangerous off-target effects of potential therapeutics can be detected early, decreasing the risk to the human volunteers who participate in clinical trials.
Though research into organ-on-a-chip technologies began as early as 1989, it was not until 2012 when the field really began to grow. This was due to the launch of the Tissue Chip for Drug Screening initiative by the United States National Institutes of Health (NIH) in collaboration with the Defense Advanced Research Projects (DARPA) and the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Since then, many start-up and spin-out companies focusing on organ-on-a-chip technologies have emerged.
Today, there is still significant government support and interest in developing organ-on-a-chip technologies. The NIH and the FDA, along with the European Medicines Agency (EMA) continue to work closely with companies across the US and Europe to develop advanced organ-on-a-chip devices for the testing of food and pharmaceutical products. Regulatory agencies like the FDA and EMA are looking to reduce and replace testing on animals, while simultaneously improving safety for humans. Companies active in this space include Emulate, CN Bio Innovations, TissUse, Hesperos, and Mimetas.
In the past year, the following (non-exhaustive) list of organ-on-a-chip devices have been reported from research laboratories around the world:
- Menstruation cycle
- Blood-retinal barrier
- Blood vessel
The interest and support of organ-on-a-chip technologies can also be found in the private sector, where most of the world's top 25 pharmaceutical companies are collaborating with or utilize some form of organ-on-a-chip device for their preclinical drug development needs. Just recently in late-February 2018, Emulate announced partnerships with Roche and Takeda in the discovery and development of novel therapeutics. Simultaneously, Emulate and Cedars-Sinai published their preliminary findings in using their technology to develop a patient-on-a-chip technology for precision medicine. IDTechEx's report, Tissue Engineering 2018 - 2028: Technologies, Markets, Forecasts covers the above application for engineered tissues, along with associated business models, markets, and forecasts to 2028. The report is complemented by a discussion of the wide range of techniques and technologies that can be used to fabricate living biological structures. These techniques can be as simple as mixing cells in a polymer solution and allowing the mixture to set into a 3D structure, or they can be as complex as the controlled deposition of cells by a 3D bioprinter.
IDTechEx will also be holding a masterclass titled "Tissue Engineering & Regenerative Medicine" on April 10th, 2018 at the Estrel Convention Center in Berlin, Germany. Click here to find out more.
Top image: A human-on-a-chip device can be used to model the route a drug would take through the body, from uptake (absorption through the lungs, gut, or skin) to clearance. The effect of the drug on several vital organs, such as the heart and liver, can be monitored. Source: Timothy Ruban, Wikicommons