A newly created startup called Emulate has picked up and plans to commercialize "Organs-on-Chips" developed at Harvard's Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering and intends to use them to speed up the development of pharmaceutical, chemical, cosmetic, and personalized medicine products, following an agreement made between the new private firm and Harvard's Office of Technology Development.
An Organ-on-a-Chip, according to Wyss, is a cell culture device that contains hollow channels lined by living cells and tissues that mimic organ-level physiology. Wyss says the device is capable of producing levels of tissue and organ functionality not possible with conventional culture systems and also allows real-time analysis of biochemical, genetic, and metabolic activities within individual cells. One recent breakthrough involving the technology happened in May, when Wyss announced its researchers developed a bone marrow-on-a-chip that reportedly can reproduce the structure, functions, and cellular makeup of bone marrow.
The Wyss Institute team also developed an instrument that can automate the Organs-on-Chips and link them together by flowing medium that mimics blood, creating a "Human-Body-on-Chips" to replicate whole body-level responses—a technology that the institute says could lead to better and more accurate drug testing and reduce the need for animal testing as well. It could also, Wyss says, potentially be used in personalized medicine.
The project leaders behind Organs-on-Chips include Don Ingber, Geraldine Hamilton, Ph.D., lead senior scientist on the Wyss Institute Biomimetics Microsystems Platform, and James Coon, a Wyss Institute entrepreneur-in-residence. Dr. Hamilton and Coon will be taking senior leadership positions at Emulate along with multiple members of the research team.
"The 'Organs-on-Chips' story is a great example of how the Wyss Institute brings researchers with industrial experience into the heart of our research community and effectively bridges academia and industry," Alan Garber, Harvard's Provost and chair of the Institute's board of directors, said in a statement.