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Volume 4, 2015

Organs on a chip

Albert van den Berg (MESA+ and MIRA ) and Miriam Luizink (formerly ME SA+, currently UT-wide) are both involved in establishing a virtual Dutch ‘organ on a chip’ institute: the Institute for Human Organ and Disease Model Technologies (hDMT). All about anticipating, collaboration with companies and opportunities for the pharmaceutical industry.

While Albert van den Berg is out getting tea, Miriam Luizink explains what she does: “The new institute is a collaborative venture of nine universities, medical centres and companies (refer to text box). Janny van den Eijnden-van Raaij and I, myself, serve as the managing directors of this institute-to-be.”

Van den Berg (back from getting tea): “A couple of colleagues and I first pushed the idea. The ‘lab on a chip’ concept had already been investigated and developed by our group for several years. But when, in 2010, I witnessed the first organ-on-a-chip experiments at Harvard’s Wyss Institute, I thought: we could do something with this. This thought was followed up on with a publication by the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences, which listed “Organs on a Chip” as one of the 49 challenges for the future. Here in Twente, we’ve actually anticipated on research into organs on a chip for ten years now. MIRA has amole expertise in tissue culture and cellular engineering and MESA+ has extensive expertise in microfluidics and sensorics. Scientific Director Dave Blank (MESA+) immediately strongly supported this initiative.”

Luizink: “The great thing about this Dutch consortium is the interconnection between the partners. All three technical universities, one general university and its medical centre, medium-sized companies, a research institute, Philips are involved. All these partners have strong connections with one another.”

Van den Berg: “I’d even go so far as to say that this bundling of forces means our Dutch network has expertise and capabilities similar to the Wyss Institute.”

Luizink: “Ours is truly a network organization. The idea is still to crystallize into something concrete, but I hope that, in time, we’ll become a European Centre of Excellence, the go-to point for all your organ-on-a-chip-related research questions. And, of course, that we continue to be a preferred partner to pharmaceutical companies.”

Van den Berg: “You can easily name ten or twenty organs that could be cultivated on a chip. This means the partners are not in competition with each other. And because the technology itself is generic, there’s really something to gain by collaborating. Our goal is to develop organs on a chip for pharmaceutical companies to use when testing new medicines or treatments.”

Luizink: “If we want to get the major pharmaceutical companies to invest, we first need to show our approach is working. And that’s what the next few years will be about.”

hDMT - virtual organ-on-a-chip institute
The Institute for Human Organ and Disease Model Technologies (hDMT) is a virtual organ-on-a-chip institute. hDMT was established by researchers affiliated with the University of Twente, Eindhoven University of Technology, Leiden University, the Leiden University Medical Centre, the Hubrecht Institute, Galapagos, Genmab and Philips Research.

A short timeline:

2010: Albert van den Berg witnesses experiments with cultivating organs on a chip at Harvard’s Wyss Institute.

2011: ‘The Dutch Research Agenda’ publication by the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences lists organs on a chip as one of the 49 scientific challenges for the future.

2012: A consortium of scientists received a Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences subsidy to further elaborate on their plans to establish an institute.

2013: The consortium’s plans are given actual shape during meetings and working conferences.

2014: Miriam Luizink is appointed one of the two managing directors of hDMT-to-be.

2015: hDMT is formally established in January 2015.