A research consortium consisting of academics from the University of Twente MIRA research institute, the Leiden University Medical Centre (LUMC) and the Erasmus MC have been granted a 600,000 euro subsidy from the Dutch Lung Foundation. The money will be used to create a three-dimensional lung-on-a-chip. This chip is to improve the development of new methods to treat and regenerate damaged lung tissue and may, in the future, even result in the transplantation of lung tissue that has been grown from the body's own cells.
An innovative development in conducting biomedical research is the development of organs-on-a-chip: small devices of no more than a few square centimetres on which living tissue of a specific organ has been grown. Using organs-on-a-chip can help make research into new treatment methods more efficient, reduce the amount of necessary patient tissue and lower the use of laboratory animals.
Recently, the first lungs-on-a-chip were created. However, these are not very realistic due to the cells not being arranged in a natural, three-dimensional structure. With the support from the Dutch Lung Foundation and in collaboration with the LUMC and the Erasmus MC, researchers from the University of Twente are now aiming to develop a lung-on-a-chip which is a lot more true to nature. The lung cells on the chip are grown on bent, three-dimensional membranes which are a realistic imitation of the alveoli. By applying pressure differences, the artificial alveoli can be expanded and by means of flowing liquid, the blood circulation can be stimulated.
According to Michael Rutgers, general director of the Dutch Lung Foundation, new technologies are necessary to repair damaged lung tissue. "When suffering from a lung disease such as COPD or pulmonary fibrosis, the lung tissue has been irreparably damaged. In the Netherlands, hundreds of thousands of people live with the consequences of these incurable lung diseases every day."
According to the coordinator of the research project, Dr André Poot from the University of Twente, the lung-on-a-chip can prove to be an important stimulus to the development of lung disease treatments, because it makes for quicker and better testing. What's more, by growing the patient's own cells on the chip, the chosen treatment method can be better attuned to the patient. A method may even be specifically developed for that patient. Another important advantage of a working lung-on-a-chip is that the number of required laboratory animals will see a sharp decline.
After having developed the lung-on-a-chip, the researchers will damage some of the system's cell layers to research how to stimulate recovery with so-called growth factors. In addition, it will be tested whether different membrane modules can be piled up as a first step to developing artificial lung tissue using the body's own cells.
Apart from researchers of the University of Twente Biomaterials Science and Technology (Dr André Poot, Prof. Dimitris Stamatialis) and Tissue Regeneration (Dr Roman Truckenmüller) departments, the consortium to conduct the research will consist of researchers from LUMC's Laboratory for Respiratory Cell Biology and Immunology and the centre's Cell Biology/Lung Development research group and the Erasmus MC's Laboratory of Pulmonary Medicine.