Having developed devices that mimic genetic characteristics of human organs to assess the toxicity of chemical compounds, Harvard’s Wyss Institute has now set about making this technology available for scientists worldwide.
The Institute has launched a spin off company 'Emulate' with $12 million 'Series A' financing to commercialize an automated ‘Organs-on-Chips’ platform that mimics human physiology and diseases, while permitting real-time elucidation of molecular mechanisms of action and toxicity.
The company’s mission is to commercialize its bioemulation products, automated platform and software to enhance innovation and accelerate the development of pharmaceutical, chemical, and cosmetic products.
Emulate's initial focus will be the use of Organs-on-Chips to provide more rapid and accurate evaluation of human responses to drugs and cosmetics, and to create new clinical guidance tools for personalized therapies.
"Our unique automated Organs-on-Chips approach to human bioemulation opens up entirely new possibilities to develop products with enhanced properties, improved efficacy and safety, and personalization to patients and consumers,” says James Coon, Chief Executive Officer of Emulate.
According to the scientists behind the technology, the combined stem cell microchip device could be harnessed to recreate complicated human functions such as the heart.
Their research focused on a mutated TAZ gene that causes the disease using skin cells from two Barth syndrome patients, which were then manipulated into stem cells that carried the patients’s mutated TAZ genes.
The researchers state that the cells were then grown on chips lined with human extracellular matrix proteins that mimic their natural environment, tricking the cells into joining together as they would if they were forming a diseased human heart.
Ultimately the engineered tissues contracted very weakly, replicating the action of the heart muscle in a Barth syndrome patient, with further tests being carried out using genome editing techniques to mutate the TAZ into normal cells in order to confirm the tissue contraction was caused by the mutation.
The Harvard scientists have been working on the organs on chips technology for over ten years now, and say that this latest development is a big stepping stone towards creating a wider range of applications that could include testing alternatives specifically dedicated to cosmetics and pharmaceuticals.