Organ-on-Chip lecture during Science Open Day: Why does medicine not work equally well for everyone?

Friday, 11 October 2019

At the annual Science Open Day, Sunday October 6th at Leiden University Medical Centre (LUMC), Laura Windt - PhD student in Prof. Dr. Christine Mummery's lab - held a talk on a potential solution to that question: Organ-on-Chip containing personalized stem cells.

Windt explained how Organ-on-Chip research is step-by-step beginning to provide better insights into how individual patients respond to drugs. And what the implications might be in understanding why efficacy and toxicity of medicines varies between individuals and groups. Examples of state-of-the-art technology were shown, including how to grow cells from specific organs "on a microfluidic chip". She showed how stem cells, known as "induced pluripotent stem cells", could be induced to form various types of cells of the body through differentiation.

One of the examples concerned were the human-induced pluripotent stem cell-derived cardiomyocytes. "These cells can be cultured as a monolayer in a dish for conventional medicine testing but can also form three-dimensional tissues on a chip to better mimic the human body, " Windt explains. This Heart-on-Chip model was shown on a chip recently fabricated by Milica Dostanic (PhD student at TU Delft) in a joint project with LUMC in the context of the NWO Gravitation consortium Netherlands Organ-on-Chip Initiative (NOCI) in which engineers and biotechnologists work together to form near-reality tissue models.

After the talk, the public could see and touch chips fabricated by Mees de Graaf (PhD student at the LUMC). "Everyone was enthusiastic about the idea and amazed by how small the chips were. They were particularly interested to feel how flexible the material used for the chips was and understood how this soft tissue could make the cells feel "at home" as if they were in the real heart or other organ," Windt says.

The doors were open for everyone, so the audience varied from young to old. "They all appeared to understand why and how Organ-on-Chip models better recapitulate the human body," Windt says. "They were also curious when this technique would be ready for widespread use, how long the process would take from patient to (personalized) medical advice and the importance of coupling organs." A very young but attentive child even asked what the yellow ball was in the animated blood flow of coupled organs, as shown in the NOCI video (time capture: 0:34): For example, the yellow ball represents a medical component that needs to be tested.

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