CAMBRIDGE, MA – Draper Laboratory and MIT are working under contract to the U.S. government to develop microscale technology that realistically mimics human organs in a laboratory environment for novel drug and vaccine testing.
“Human cells in biomimetic microenvironments hold the potential to revolutionize the way that new drugs and vaccines are tested,” said Jeffrey Borenstein, Technical Director of the project at Draper. “They will enable a faster and less expensive development process, and improve the safety and efficacy of new drugs.”
The project, titled “Barrier-Immune-Organ: MIcrophysiology, Microenvironment Engineered TIssue Construct Systems” (BIO-MIMETICS), is led by Linda Griffith, MIT Professor of Biological and Mechanical Engineering. Borenstein and Shankar Sundaram, director of the Draper Bioengineering center in Tampa, will lead the team at Draper. The multi-disciplinary team also includes researchers from MatTek Corporation and Zyoxel Ltd.
Most current pharmaceutical screening methods rely on animal models or cells grown in petri dishes to assess safety and efficacy. These methods are generally expensive, time consuming, and unable to fully account for physiological conditions in humans, which often contributes to failures in clinical tests.
The team is leveraging Draper’s expertise in bioengineering, micromechanical fabrication, microfluidics, systems integration and electronics design to create a physiologically accurate “human-on-a-chip,” which could be then be used to test the interaction between human tissues and drugs or vaccines.
This platform will provide a standardized, flexible, and realistic model to test for pharmaceutical toxicity, function and efficacy, enabling the rapid translation of research toward clinical testing.
To develop this technology, the BIO-MIMETICS team will grow human cells on microscale devices that mimic the environment of those cells in live organs.
Projects already underway include a prototype “lung-on-a-chip,” developed by a team led by Borenstein, which integrates living human lung cells into a small polymer platform with a network of micro-channels. Linked with microfluidic pumps, the channels allow for blood and air flow conditions similar to the human airway. The presence of these biologically accurate environmental and stress cues helps build a more realistic model of lung tissue.
Additional projects at Draper include a “liver-on-a-chip,” led by Joe Cuiffi and Wajeeh Saadi, and a “kidney-on-a-chip,” led by Joe Charest.
Ultimately, the BIO-MIMETICS team aims to create platforms for the following human systems: circulatory, endocrine, gastrointestinal, immune, skin, musculoskeletal, nervous, reproductive, respiratory, and urinary. Linked together, these would represent a physiologically accurate model of a “human-on-a-chip.”
The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) recently awarded a contract worth up to $26.4 million to the BIO-MIMETICS team through MIT for the “human-on-a-chip” work. In addition, Draper is participating in a project led by MIT that will investigate cancer metastasis treatments models with the goal of integration into the BIO-MIMETICS platform. This project will receive up to $6.25 million from the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS) at NIH.