Division of Bioengineering

Organ-on-a-Chip Technologies Network

Principal investigator: Hazel SCREEN
Co-investigator(s): Martin KNIGHT
Funding source(s): MRC Medical Research Council
 Start: 01-08-2018  /  End: 31-07-2021
 Amount: £479,339
SEMS division:

Developing a new drug or therapy takes many years and can cost billions of pounds. Early testing also involves extensive testing on animals, which is a particular concern when it is considered that animal findings often don’t translate well to humans, as different species often respond differently. It can also be difficult to understand what is happening in an animal and why it is responding to a treatment in a certain way. There is a strong need for new approaches which minimise animal use by using human cells and placing them in artificial test environments which offer tight control of therapy delivery and rapid, accurate analysis of response.

“Organs-on-Chips” offer exactly these advantages. Human cells are integrated within a system which mimics human tissue structures and their mechanical motions, to effectively recreate all the tissue interfaces we see in the body. This enables the behaviours of bacteria, drugs and human cells can all be monitored and investigated. The potential for this technology is outstanding, letting us see biological mechanisms and behaviours we have never been able to see before, and understand more about how diseases or injuries develop. Organ-on-a-chip devices have the capacity to eradicate animal testing, and accelerate drug discovery whilst reducing costs. Further, an individual’s cells can be implanted into such a device, which makes it possible to see how that individual’s body will respond to a certain treatment such as a specific drug combination, paving the way to a future of personalised medicine.

To date, research in this field has been led by the United States, where there has been major investment and exciting advances. However, there are still many challenges we must overcome if this technology is to reach its full potential. We must develop complex, multi-layered materials if we are to truly mimic tissue structures, and we must create apparatus which can load the artificial tissues in the same way as occurs in the body, for example copying the pressures and blood flow involved in a beating heart. We also need to develop ways of reading the response of the system very rapidly in real time and to ensure all technologies are contained within a single system which is easy for researchers to adopt and use. Advances in this field can rarely be made by individuals, but need engineers, chemists, materials scientist and biologists to all work together and provide their expertise towards developing solutions.

The UK houses outstanding researchers across engineering, chemistry, materials science and biology many of whom are already working on early organ-on-a-chip designs. However, if the UK is to begin leading in organ-on-a-chip development, we must bring this community together, so they can support each other, and provide the cross-discipline expertise that will be crucial for the next generation of organ-on-a-chip designs. Furthermore, it will be crucial to train the next generation of researchers to naturally work across traditional discipline divides to integrate the varied expertise they will need for successful development and implementation of new organ-on-a-chip models.

The network will address these needs, and help the UK led international research in organ-on-a-chip technologies. Our goals are to:

  1. Develop a vibrant, multidisciplinary research community, which brings together researchers from across the UK interested in developing and using organ-on-a-chip models. In this way we aim to forge the crucial cross-disciplinary links needed for successful organ-on-a-chip development.
  2. Promote organ-on-a-chip research opportunities, to grow the research community and improve our profile across the UK and internationally.
  3. Train, support and inspire the next generation of researchers, to become the outstanding researcher leaders of the future, able to lead organ-on-a-chip research on the world stage.

Full details on the network website: www.organonachip.org.uk/