by Berend van Meer, LUMC and University of Twente, January 2020
If one would ask me at a birthday party what I do, I would explain about Organs-on-Chip and tell them it is probably the most exciting field of research ever. Well, maybe apart from ‘Atlas’: robots are always cool. But then again, we – and this is a very royal “we” – have also made robots. “We” have made very cool images and movies. We have created hundreds of designs for different organ structures. And we have put some cells in many of them as well. Organs-on-Chip have been reported as one of the Top 10 emerging technologies. And, we have made tons of promises – or at least generated tons of expectations.
Time to demonstrate
But now comes the hard part: we need to meet up to those expectations. Robustly. Repeatable. Validated. And we need to demonstrate what an Organ-on-Chip (OoC) can do that we cannot do in a petri dish? We need to show the world because, despite all the cool things we are doing, the uptake of OoC in the real world is disappointing, to say the least.
And let’s be honest, also for us OoC is not a piece of cake. Honestly, how long does it take to set up an OoC with flow and reasonable cell culture in a device? How many PhD students are still fighting bubbles in their systems? Do we have the right cells in our OoCs? And if we have everything working, do we have the right tools for imaging and readout? And if you’ve generated a proof-of-concept, how do you know whether it is actually clinically relevant? Better than (or at least as good as) animal models? How should we validate our models?