The minuscule scale of organ-on-chip technology makes it the perfect environment in which to model the operation of organs and the influence that diseases have on them. They can be used in the preclinical testing of medicines, for example, and in the future, they will make it possible to forgo the use of laboratory animals for certain purposes. Today saw the official opening of the Organ-on-Chip Center Twente (OoCCT) at one of the pre-sessions of the TechMed Event. The OoCCT, a joint centre linking researchers at the TechMed Centre and MESA+ research institutes at UT, is intended to boost the development of new organ-on-chips and their application.
The aim of the brand-new Organ-on-Chip Center Twente (OoCCT) is to stimulate new research, link initiatives, and strengthen public-private collaboration in the development of innovations. “The launch of this Center marks the first step towards the coming of age of organ-on-chip-technology. Linking our knowledge and skills accelerates innovation and helps us to market successfully,” explains Berend van Meer, OoCCT’s business lead.
Van Meer will lead the OoCCT together with Andries van der Meer and Liliana Moreira Teixeira, who will be its scientific directors. Van der Meer: “The University of Twente now has fifteen research groups working on technologies essential to organ-on-chip application – everything from microfluidics and sensor technology to disease modelling. They are some of the best people in their fields, and UT is globally the fifth most cited university in scientific publications on this subject.”
Researchers at the University of Twente were also closely involved in the creation of the European Organ-on-Chip Society EUROoCS, which is linked to the Dutch hDMT (human Organ and Disease Model Technologies) network. This is intended to further strengthen the lead European scientists currently have by creating development options for researchers, supporting promising joint research proposals and exchanging expertise.
Introducing a certain degree of standardisation will make a significant contribution to the further development of organ-on-chip technology, not just because this simplifies knowledge exchange but also because it enables the upscaling of successful applications. UT researchers have therefore developed the Translational Organ-on-Chip Platform (TOP), an automated, open-technology platform, to make this possible. All too often, a lack of possibilities for further automation and inter-chip incompatibility has limited end-users in the adoption of organ-on-chip technologies.
Organs-on-chips are systems about the size of a USB stick in which cultured human tissue forms ‘mini-organs’ that simulate the operation of real human organs. Organs-on-chips are a safe way to gain insight into the operation of human organs and into the pathophysiology of disease. They help to predict the safety and effectiveness of medicines and other treatments for the human body, and can be deployed across a broad spectrum of disorders and illnesses, from vascular disease to eye disease. Moreira Teixeira: “We want the OoCCT to take the innovative technologies we are developing at UT and bring them closer to the patient.”
A variety of recent examples have demonstrated the need and potential of the wider use of organ-on-chip technologies. UT professor Marcel Karperien: “Osteoarthrosis, for instance – a joint disease – still has no effective treatment. This is partly because of the lack of reliable models of the human joint, with which the pathophysiology of this disease could be simulated. The Developmental BioEngineering group is working on the development of a so-called ‘joint-on-a-chip’. Working models have already been made of a cartilage-and-joint-capsule-on-a-chip in which movement, a natural characteristic of a healthy joint, can be simulated. These models have enabled the chondron – the natural microenvironment of cartilage cells – to appear in vitro, in the joint-on-a-chip, for the first time ever. So using this chip we can now develop new medicines to treat osteoarthrosis.”
Organ-on-chip technology is also playing an important role in our improved understanding of COVID-19. Together with public and private partners, UT researchers are developing a heart-on-a-chip and a patient-specific blood-vessel-on-a-chip to help clarify the influence of COVID-19 on vascular function.