The future of Organ-On-A-Chip
Posted 9th January 2019 by Jane Williams
Bas Trietsch is the CTO and co-founder of MIMETAS and co-inventor of the OrganoPlate. As CTO he currently drives the continued product development of the OrganoPlate and its peripheral equipment.
Here, Bas talks about what the future holds for organ-on-a-chip and other breakthroughs technologies in biology.
Mimetas and the OrganoPlate
Mimetas is a Dutch company which has developed a microfluidic platform called the OrganoPlate. It is similar to the standard 384-well plate, but there are microfluidic channels integrated into the bottom of the plates, in which we do 3D cell culture or co-culture cells under perfusion. This is all with the aim of getting better representative models of different healthy and diseased tissues to enable the development of better medicine or to do treatment selection for patients.
There are three main applications. The first is using a plate with hundreds of small livers, or kidneys for safety testing of healthy tissues. The second is having a plate with diseased tissues where we try and recapitulate certain disease mechanisms that can be used for research into trying to find a cure or obtain a better understanding of how they work. The third application is getting a platform in which patient-specific tissues can be cultured in a way that they still represent the state they were in, within the patient, to help doctors make better decisions on what drugs to give to which patients, to stratify patient populations for precision and personalised medicine.
The future of organ-on-a-chip
Organ-on-a-chip could replace a lot of the animal models currently being used. One big thing that will need to happen in the next 5 to 10 years is the general acceptance of the key models in organ-on-a-chip replacing what is currently utilised in a standard drug development trajectory. Currently, they are primarily being used as an add-on to help selection, but of course, the true potential is met when other technologies are being replaced, and we speed up the drug development by doing that.
By combining organ-on-a-chip in the field of IPS and work with organ-on-a-technology, with the great breakthroughs in biology, this gives researchers a tool to get hands-on, dedicated mechanistic insights into new models. This will be one of the major tools for new drug development to help break out of the impasse that it is currently in. It’s difficult to find truly new medicine and truly new drug classes.
The biggest challenge is to get organ-on-a-chip into the clinic, helping patients directly, not through speeding up drug research, but through being able to take cells from a patient, culture them, try out different treatment options, see which will work best, and give that one to a patient.
The big transition is moving from something that’s experimental. We’re now at the stage where this technology is available for everybody, particularly those who are not interested in microfluidics but are interested in researching the outcome. The next step would be putting it in the hand of doctors.
There are huge opportunities for doing safety and efficacy tests on pre-set test banks that represent different patient subpopulations. This will have the biggest impact in the future, that we may unlock drugs that have previously failed in the clinic. With these more relevant models, it might be possible to take the drugs that worked for some and not others and reclassify these into new drugs.
The other aspect of personalised medicine is growing cells from a specific patient, and from there, being able to select the proper treatments for the individual. The biggest benefits of organ-on-a-chip for “personalised medicine” are precision diagnostics, treatment selection and a better overview of the people that we currently place in the same disease category.
Breakthrough technologies in biology
The most exciting part of my day-to-day work is to see how this has been growing. 5 years ago, I was halfway through my PhD, working with people who had the core technology. From doing typical academic research, it moved very quickly into, “Okay, we’re really onto something here.” In a short period of time, the whole concept of the OrganoPlate was born and we made it into a product and founded a company. The building of the company and those very quick changes that a company goes through from an idea, to a flourishing product is incredibly exciting and means that my day-to-day job changes continuously.
It’s an exciting time because of the real breakthrough technologies in biology. The fact that gene editing has become so straightforward with CRISPR-Cas technology, that the IPS technology is widely available, and that organoid technology is getting more mature, means that from a biological point of view, a huge plethora of options has opened up.
I try to stay away from the term “it’s a game-changer” but with the OrganoPlate, we can do so many new things and that just makes it incredibly viable that the work we’re doing is actually going to affect patients’ lives in the foreseeable future.
Maybe 10 years down the line, we might have something in phase 2 clinical trials. With all of these technologies together, there’s such fast movement that we will see an amazing number of breakthroughs and understanding of diseases, enabling the use of different drugs and affecting patient’s lives by the work we’re doing.
Bas Trietsch is CTO and co-founder of MIMETAS and co-inventor of the OrganoPlate.
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