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Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Fresh Insights into Human Organ Systems

CAMBRIDGE, MA—Bringing a new drug to market is one of the longest and most costly paths any industry has to walk. Current methods—cell culture in plastic plates and animal testing, among others—are not predictive enough. Nearly 90 percent of drugs that have been validated on these models then fail during clinical trials, often because of toxicity or lack of efficacy. 

Human organ systems (HOS) has emerged as a promising alternative, and people are taking notice. They are finding that microscale organ models using human cells in a realistic microenvironment serve as a powerful tool because they function more like human tissues, allowing researchers to measure tissue function more accurately and more quickly than in traditional preclinical models.

As a result, a whole new platform technology has steadily gained ground: microfluidic cell culture systems. On these tiny microfluidic platforms, researchers dispense, flow and sample candidate drug compounds in cell culture media in fluid channels whose diameters are measured in microns.

Now, a new edition of the book Microfluidic Cell Culture Systems reveals just how much has changed in recent years in microfluidic devices that make many HOS configurations possible. “One major development—due to advances in fabrication technologies, materials and cell biology—is that the human organ systems are becoming more complex and more powerful,” said Jeff Borenstein, a biomedical engineer at Draper and co-editor of the book, now in its second edition. “Researchers are now developing dynamic organ models that better recapitulate tissue function than existing static cell culture models, and are using advanced engineering technologies to build higher throughput systems and interconnected multi-organ systems.”

Joseph Charest, a biomedical engineer at Draper who co-edited the book, points out that another sign of increased confidence in cell culture systems is a rise in funding, including DARPA and the NIH, which, respectively, awarded $140 million and $76 million over five-year periods to support developments, and technology developers, who have raised more than $80 million since 2012 with investors. “In recent years, scientists from pharmaceutical companies are publishing more research on HOS and contributing to books like Microfluidic Cell Culture Systems. They have found a better way to quantify dynamic drug-interaction with organ tissue in real time.”

The second edition contains new material that strengthens the focus on in vitro models useful for drug discovery and development. One new chapter reviews liver organ models from an industry perspective, while others cover newer technologies for scaling these models and for multi-organ systems. Other new chapters highlight the development of organ models and systems for specific applications in disease modeling and drug safety.

The editorial team behind Microfluidic Cell Culture Systems includes Borenstein, Charest, Vishal Tandon, of Draper and Sarah Tao, of Sanofi. Contributors to the second edition work in universities, hospitals, pharmaceutical companies and research and development organizations. The book is written for a readership that includes academic scientists working in areas related to cell and tissue culture, industry scientists working on drug discovery, safety and drug screening and clinical researchers working toward regenerative medicine technologies, according to the book’s publisher, Elsevier.


At Draper, we believe exciting things happen when new capabilities are imagined and created. Whether formulating a concept and developing each component to achieve a field-ready prototype or combining existing technologies in new ways, Draper engineers apply multidisciplinary approaches that deliver new capabilities to customers. As a not-for-profit research and development company, Draper focuses on the design, development and deployment of advanced technological solutions for the world’s most challenging and important problems. We provide engineering solutions directly to government, industry and academia; work on teams as prime contractor or subcontractor; and participate as a collaborator in consortia. We provide unbiased assessments of technology or systems designed or recommended by other organizations—custom designed, as well as commercial-off-the-shelf.

A new book edited by Draper engineers discusses the latest advances in microfluidic cell culture systems and the benefits they bring to drug development.
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