A flexible microfluidic organ-on-a-chip system. Learn more...
When scientists started fabricating microchips from silicon they opened doors to the modern age of electronics. Now, the Biomimetic Microsystems Platform is modifying these methods of miniaturization to build functional circuits with living cells as components. Researchers in this platform are building tiny, complex, three-dimensional models of human organs that can be used to treat patients, as well as replace costly and time-consuming animal studies that currently hamper drug development.
Cells normally exist in complex organ systems that are fed by blood vessels and affected by environmental changes, such as the expansion and contraction of lung tissues during inspiration and expiration. These conditions cannot be replicated in an ordinary Petri dish, so cells in culture do not behave as they would in the body, and cell-based research provides only limited information about the impact of a particular drug or toxin. To fill the gap, scientists normally rely on animal testing, but animal models are notoriously bad at predicting typical human responses to medications, and they are costly. The Biomimetic Microsystems team is addressing these shortcomings by replicating complex organ structures with patterns microetched into flexible biocompatible materials. These patterns can be shaped into channels containing blood capillaries that interface with neighboring epithelial tissues, like they do in living organs. These tissue-tissue interfaces distort and recoil elastically when stretched, and mimic other features of an organ's normal microstructure. This approach enables Wyss Institute scientists to engineer model 'organs-on-a-chip' that mimic normal the complex interactions between living tissues within an organ, as well as the physical cues that cells normally experience in the body. These systems, developed with human cells, are intended to make drug development and toxicology screening more reliable, while obviating the need for animal testing. Similar systems are being developed as therapeutic devices, such as an artificial spleen used to clear blood of pathogens in patients with sepsis.
Promoting low-cost diagnostics
A paper-based microfluidic analytical system. Learn more...
Whether in a village in India or a pharmaceutical laboratory, clinicians and researchers share a need for reliable, inexpensive tools that can be operated by untrained workers. Wyss researchers are developing screening tools based on coated paper that could be produced very cheaply and used in non-sterile environments to replace expensive laboratory equipment. These low-cost devices use polymers that repel water to steer blood or urine along tiny channels. There, the fluids interact with chemicals that change color if they detect disease indicators, such as the signature high glucose levels of diabetes. Results could be read by a layperson and called in by cell phone, allowing doctors to remotely diagnose and treat patients in impoverished rural areas. Institute scientists are exploring use of the same paper-based approach to create low-cost diagnostic devices and laboratory tools that incorporate living cells grown within the interstices of the paper in distinct three dimensional patterns that recreate complex tissue architecture and reconstitute tissue and organ level functions.
Initial target applications
- Human organs-on-a-chip
·Replacements for animal testing for drug discovery and toxicology
·Model systems for mechanistic analysis in physically relevant context
- Biochip-based therapeutics
·Extracorporeal devices for sepsis therapy, stem cell isolation, cancer therapy
·Implantable devices for replacement of organ function
- Low-cost diagnostics
·Disposable, inexpensive microfluidic systems for disease diagnosis and signal detection, including a Rapid Sepsis Diagnostic Device