Organ-on-chip technology

Organ-on-chip is a technology that uses miniature cell-based models in chip format. These are used as human test model systems for drug development and other applications The cells used for these chips are the same for other regenerative medicine applications, such as advanced therapies.

What are organs-on-chip and what can we use them for

Organ-on-chip models are miniature in vitro tissue models set on, for example, a glass or metal surface. These closely mimic human tissue and organs in vivo. Organ-on-chip models are very well suited for high throughput testing for drug development, drug toxicity screening, or to study disease. Currently, most of these studies are done using animal models. As these organ-on-chip models are representative of tissues or whole organ systems, they are very suitable to replace and hence reduce in vivo animal testing. Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells (iPSC) {link to iPSC technology} are often the cell source to derive organoid tissues used on organ-on-chip. iPSC can be obtained from healthy human donors but also from patients, thus enabling us to study specific diseases. Organ-on-chip models are not restricted to just one cell source or tissue. Several cell types can be combined to create a miniature organ system containing, for example, blood vessels to study the effect of nutrient transport through the particular organ of interest. Innovations in microfluidics technology is necessary to make this happen.


State-of the-art organ-on-chip

Currently, several human organ and disease models (-on-chip) have been developed or are in different phases of development. They vary from lung-on-chip; to liver-on-chip; to blood vessels-on-chip, which mimic both health and disease. One sophisticated model developed at LUMC concerns cardiovascular diseases, on which the main physical features of a cardiac cell can be measured: contraction, electrical action potential and calcium flux. Testing this on human cell models is essential, as the heart of a mouse beats 500 times a minute, while the average human heart rate is 60 beats per minute. Recently, heart cells and endothelial cells were co-differentiated and placed on a chip to study the dialogue between these two cell types, and to understand how one cell type influences the function of the other.


This is what we aim to accomplish in the future 

Organ-on-chip models have broader applicability then the study of specific diseases. Future models can also be used to study highly complex questions, such as studies into lifestyle effect (skin and hair-on-chip), interaction of nutrition and infection (microbiome), autoimmune diseases and neurodegenerative diseases (developmental disorders). While it may sound like science fiction, the complete human-on-chip-model is also being developed. This contains several organ systems linked to one another, which allows studying the interplay between organs and how afflictions in one organ effects other organs.