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3D ‘Organ on a Chip’: How can It Help Develop New Therapies?

3D ‘Organ on a Chip’: How can It Help Develop New Therapies?

Written by Dr. Kaushik Bharati, MSc, PhD, FRSPH (London)
Article Reviewed by 
The Medindia Medical Review Team on October 27, 2018 at 3:47 PM
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  • 3D ‘Organ on a Chip’ is a new technology that provides a three-dimensional environment for cell culture, similar to that present in the body
  • Cells and tissues can be continuously monitored in real-time using this robust technology
  • 3D ‘Organ on a Chip’ can be used for drug testing and for developing new treatments for various diseases

3D 'Organ on a Chip" is a new type of device, which could revolutionize the way we study cells in culture, new research suggests. This device will allow continuous monitoring of cells in real-time. It could help develop new therapies for various types of diseases. Moreover, it is likely to substantially reduce the number of animals used in biomedical research, which is a 'plus point' of this technology.

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3D ‘Organ on a Chip’: How can It Help Develop New Therapies?

This new device cultures cells within, what is called, a 3D transistor. This is a chamber made of a soft sponge-like material, akin to the structure of the natural human tissue. Providing this 3D milieu will mimic the natural environment in which the cells grow and develop in the body. This will allow scientists to monitor cells more closely, like never before.

3D 'Organ on a Chip' - New Way to Test Drugs

The research was headed by scientists at the University of Cambridge, UK, with collaborators from Greece, France and Saudi Arabia. This new discovery could pave the way to developing other formats of the device, such as a 'liver on a chip', 'heart on a chip', and eventually the whole 'body on a chip'. This will be a paradigm shift in the way scientists test drugs and develop new therapeutics that affect the whole body, without the need for using lab animals. This study was published in Science Advances, a journal of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).

3D vs 2D Cell Culture

Conventionally, cell culture has been carried out on petri dishes, in which cells are grown on a flat surface. This two-dimensional environment of petri dishes doesn't provide the natural three-dimensional environment that the cells are accustomed to within the body. This can result in inaccurate data obtained from drug kinetics studies leading to subsequent failures of drugs in clinical trials.

Dr. Róisín M. Owens, a University Lecturer at the Department of Chemical Engineering and Biotechnology, University of Cambridge, and the senior author of the study, said: "Two-dimensional cell models have served the scientific community well, but we now need to move to three-dimensional cell models in order to develop the next generation of therapies."

In this regard, Dr. Charalampos Pitsalidis, a Research Associate at the Department of Chemical Engineering and Biotechnology, and the study's first author, says: "Three-dimensional cell cultures can help us identify new treatments and know which ones to avoid, if we can accurately monitor them."

Technology Behind 3D 'Organ on a Chip'

The 3D device developed by Dr. Owens and her team involve a 'scaffold' made of a spongy material, which forms an integral component of the cell culture system. This device is assembled in an electrochemical transistor configuration and is placed within a plastic tube through which the cells in culture media flows.

The spongy scaffold, which acts as the electrodes, is much superior than the conventional metallic electrodes currently used. This set-up provides a similar milieu to that within the body, which allows testing the effects of various types of stimuli on cells in a much more rigorous manner.

Dr. Owens said: "The majority of the cells in our body communicate with each other by electrical signals, so in order to monitor cell cultures in the lab, we need to attach electrodes to them." She added: "However, electrodes are pretty clunky and difficult to attach to cell cultures, so we decided to turn the whole thing on its head and put the cells inside the electrode."

Advantages of the 3D 'Organ on a Chip' Technology

The major advantage of this technology is that the cells can be continuously monitored in real-time, without the need to disassemble the system, which is usually the case for currently available devices. As a result, long-term experiments can be conveniently carried out on various disease models, allowing the scope for development of new treatment strategies.

Dr. Pitsalidis indicated that the growth of tissue and its response to various drugs and toxins can be closely monitored using this device. Besides toxicology studies, diseases can also be induced and the disease mechanisms can be studied, thus facilitating the development of new therapies.

Future Plans

The researchers are planning to develop a 'gut on a chip' and a 'brain on a chip', based on this technology. This will allow them to study the role of the gut microbiome on brain function, thereby providing insight on the gut-brain axis, which is currently a 'hot-topic'.

Source of Funding

The research is a part of the IMBIBE Project, which is funded by the European Research Council.

  1. Transistor in a tube: A route to three-dimensional bioelectronics - (http://advances.sciencemag.org/content/4/10/eaat4253)

Source: Medindia

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