Netherlands towards world top in ‘organs on a chip’ with founding of new institute

TU/e and other universities in the Netherlands are working together with industry in the new hDMT foundation (Institute for human Organ and Disease Model Technology) for organ-on-a-chip-technology. Chips of this kind can greatly accelerate the development of new pharmaceuticals and treatment methods. By joining forces, the Netherlands is on the way to becoming a world player in this field.

Organs on a chip are tiny pieces of cultivated live tissue, through which synthetic blood flows. The aim is to study the tissue, for example to observe the development of a disease, or how tissue reacts to medicines. Because diseases and medicines often involve the interplay between several organs, hDMT intends to develop microsystems containing several ‘organs’. Microsystems like this typically have a size of several centimeters, and contain a network of canals and voids with sizes varying from 1 to 100 micrometers. A typical application is the interplay between different medicines in the liver, which have the effect of secreting substances that can be toxic for other organs.

Systems of this kind can greatly reduce the cost and time needed for the development of medicines. In many cases medicines are now tested on human cells in Petri dishes, but this does not provide a realistic natural environment. Tests are sometimes also carried out on animals, but these often respond differently from human subjects. In addition, the results of animal tests cannot be monitored in real-time. Using a microsystem with organs on a chip will in the near future allow researchers to carry out tests much more quickly, without the need for animal testing or the use of human subjects.

Custom-made treatment
Prof.dr. Christine Mummery, Executing Board Chain of hDMT and professor at Leiden University Medical Centre (LUMC): “The use of patient-specific stem cells for the chips means the genetic characteristics of individual patients are included in the tests. This allows us to develop medicines that are highly effective for one patient, while these can have serious side-effective in another. What we are aiming for in the longer term is custom-made treatment for each individual patient.”

Heart, cancer and blood vessels
hDMT was founded by nine partners, each with a specific area of expertise: University of Twente, Delft University of Technology, Eindhoven University of Technology, Hubrecht Institute, Leiden University, Leiden University Medical Centre, Erasmus University Medical Center and the companies Galapagos and Genmab. The initiators expect in the longer term to be joined by other parties. The foundation will initially focus on three research lines: the heart, cancer and blood vessels.

Microfab lab
A number of TU/e groups from different departments take part in the new institute, with contributions in the fields of materials, device integration and modeling. The professors concerned are Jaap den Toonder, Kees Storm, Reinder Coehoorn, Bert Meijer, Albert Schenning and Dick Broer.

TU/e makes an important contribution through the brand-new Microfab lab, which will be officially opened on 1 July. This lab is dedicated to the development of microsystems and related research areas. The lab measures around 700 square meter, and is the best equipped facility of its kind in the Netherlands.