Interview Janny van den Eijnden - van Raaij: building an Organ-on-Chip community

Thursday, 25 April 2019

Speeding up the development of Organ-on-Chip technology by bringing together all stakeholders at an early stage. That's the mission of Janny van den Eijnden - van Raaij, who is co-founder of the new European Organ-on-Chip Society.

Mimicking a human organ on a chip is a relatively new field in science. In this field biologists and engineers, who traditionally don't meet regularly, join forces to create microenvironments in which parts of organs - cultured from human cells - perform one or more of an organs real-life function.

The field holds great promises to reduce animal testing and to improve drug development by providing a better testing platform for potential drugs, according to Van den Eijnden, managing director of the Dutch Institute for human Organ and Disease Model Technologies (hDMT). Cosmetics, chemical, food and other industries are also in need of physiologically relevant human models to test toxicological hazards and assess the risk of substances under increasingly stringent regulatory requirements.

Speeding things up

The new European Organ-on-Chip Society, launched at the end of 2018, aims to bring together all relevant stakeholders, like biologists, engineers, pharma companies, bio- and high tech companies, regulators and even patient representatives. "It's important to discuss and agree on what type of measurements need to be done, which cells can be used best and how one can mimic the function of an organ, like the beating of a heart. Furthermore, we need to think about regulations, manufacturability and things like that at an early stage if we want to have real impact."

"We want to speed things up by developing standardized open technology platforms which can be used for all kind of applications," Van den Eijnden explains. "Consulting all stakeholders is key to make this happen."

Setting up independent test centres

Furthermore, proof needs to be delivered that the Organ-on-Chip technology really makes a difference in the development of drugs for instance and that the models are reliable and robust, with experiments in different labs leading to the same result. "Therefore we are also thinking about setting up independent test centres."

The society is still in its infancy. Last week, the societies website was launched. And besides bringing people together in workshops and congresses, the society also has plans to publish its own open access journal in the near future. Furthermore, lobbying for more research money and training next generation scientists to work on Organ-on-Chip research are high on the priority list of the new society.

Small research budgets

The EU doesn't have a huge research program on Organ-on-Chip technology yet, while the US already spends hundreds of millions of dollars on this new field, according to Van den Eijnden. However, a consortium of seven research organisations located in six European countries called Organ-on-Chip In Development (ORCHID) did get a small EU grant of €500,000 to build an Organ-on-Chip community and develop a roadmap with milestones for the next years.

"Although this is peanuts compared to the subsidies in the US, it has had an enormous spin-off. Conducting interviews and organising two workshops with a lot of stakeholders really helped us. We hope it lays the foundation for a successful cooperation within Europe."

Facilitating collaborations

In the Netherlands the Institute for human Organ and Disease Model Technologies (hDMT) started to unite the pioneers working on Organ-on-Chips about five years ago. "What's special about this cooperation is that it didn't start with a bag of money; it started because different research groups really needed each other to proceed in this new field," says Van den Eijnden. Currently fifteen Dutch research organisations have joined hDMT, each paying €20.000 to run the virtual institute that organises meetings, congresses, assists in preparing proposals, looks for funding opportunities and lobbies for new research calls on this topic in the Netherlands and the EU.

The Dutch are frontrunners in Europe in this field, Van den Eijnden explains. "Therefore, at the end of 2016 we took the initiative to write the ORCHID project proposal, a so called coordination support action, which eventually led to the establishment of the new European society. Our dream is that more European countries establish their own Organ-on-Chip consortium, like the UK, Belgium, Scandinavia and Israel are already doing, and that the new European Organ-on-Chip Society can be an overarching organisation which helps stakeholders to quickly and easily find other specialists in this field."

Interview and text by Martine Segers, science journalist

Another version of this article was published in Research NL

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