Q+A with the Organ-on-a-Chip Company TissUse

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NAVS recently had the opportunity to speak with Dr. Reyk Horland, Vice President of Business Development at TissUse. TissUse is leading the development of organ chips that can link to one another to create “human-on-a-chip” (aka “body-on-a-chip”) models. These models have the potential to significantly reduce and replace animal use in scientific research.

Dr. Horland was excited to give NAVS the inside scoop about what TissUse is calling “HUMIMIC Chips.” Here is what he had to say about their powerful in vitro models.

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NAVS: In science, many models are often available to answer research questions. What other models are commonly used by researchers in your field to address similar scientific questions, and how did these models lead you to conceive the HUMIMIC Chip?

Dr. Horland: Historically, animal models as well as simple 2D cell culture have been and are still being used for many research questions in our field. Three-dimensional (3D) cell culture models were the next step to more closely emulate in vivo functions of organs and tissues. Microphysiological systems (MPS) are in many ways the logical continuation of 3D models, as they try to mimic the organ/tissue microenvironment even closer by including flow and mechanical cues to the cell culture system. In parallel, in silico methods have been developed based on an abundance of historical data sets. We believe that combining MPS technology with in silico methods will deliver a highly complementary solution capable of reducing and/or replacing many current animal tests.

NAVS: What advantages do you think your HUMIMIC Chip models have over other currently available models?

Dr. Horland: MPS models in general aim to mimic specific functions of organs as closely as possible to their original counterpart. This allows the generation of highly predictive data sets but very often comes at the cost of throughput. Therefore, one needs to carefully consider how much complexity is required from a model in order to answer a specific research question…At TissUse we also went one step further and focused our efforts on the development of a multi-organ solution capable of emulating the systemic arrangement and interactions of multiple organ models….In our experience in working with single and multi-organ models we very often see what Aristotle coined as “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”

NAVS: Can you describe your models in more detail?

Dr. Horland: There are currently three different chip types commercially available. They can be cultivated [with two, three or four organs] in a common microfluidic circuit. The chips are designed with full flexibility in mind. At present, [researchers] can select from 16 established human organ models and nine established organ combinations to be used in the chips.

The next generation chip design under development will integrate 10+ different organ models on one chip. These body-on-a-chip, or universal physiological templates (UPT), should be capable of generating highly predictive data, even aiming to substitute phase I/II clinical trials. It should also allow for the establishment of patient-on-a-chip models for personalized medicine approaches.

NAVS: Is data from your model more likely to predict what happens in humans than data from animal models?

Dr. Horland: A crucial part of the development process of every MPS-based assay is to benchmark it against either data from animal models or clinical trials. There are already a number of cases where it is possible to generate highly predictive data using MPS-based assays…This very encouraging data gives us confidence that MPS-based assays are already contributing to patient and animal welfare while further development in the field has the potential to ultimately lead to a full paradigm shift in the testing of drug candidates, chemicals, cosmetics ingredients and food.

NAVS: How may HUMIMIC Chips replace or reduce animal testing?

Dr. Horland: Microphysiological systems (MPS) will contribute to the reduction of laboratory animal testing in drug development [when MPS-based safety or efficacy tests show a candidate drug should not proceed] to its preclinical animal testing in the pharmaceutical industry. Early adopters of this technology in the pharmaceutical industry are actually already very close to achieving this. In a long-term vision, human MPS-based assays could potentially replace patient-derived xenograft animal models as well as newly developed humanized laboratory animal models.

Finally, MPS technologies can challenge the widespread use of laboratory animal models in basic and applied research. We are already seeing a large number of laboratories worldwide using human MPS tools instead of implementing new [genetically modified] animal models to discover the truth about human biology, invent new medicines or develop sustainable food.