ECBC, Harvard collaborate on organ-on-a-chip research
December 20, 2013
ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. -- U.S. Army and Harvard University researchers are partnering to advance organ-on-a-chip research with the goal of aiding Soldiers and the nation.
Collaboration between the U.S. Army Edgewood Chemical Biological Center and Harvard could lead to chemical and biological testing improvements. One could be the reduction of chemical and drug testing on animals. Traditional animal-testing results are not applicable to providing solutions for humans 90 percent of the time.
The organ-on-a-chip research could also provide more solutions and narrow research efforts early during testing by quickly yielding accurate results. This is especially important to Soldiers, who could be exposed to chemical or biological hazards in the field.
ECBC is one of seven organizations that make up the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command.
Two researchers from the ECBC heard Harvard professor Dr. Donald Ingber speak at a conference about his lung-on-a-chip research two years ago. The two ECBC researchers, Dr. Harry Salem and Dr. Russell Dorsey, approached Ingber after the conference to discuss their organ-on-a-chip research at ECBC and the possibility of collaborating.
The lung is composed of swatches of human tissue that are placed on "chips" of silicon wafer that are about the size of a computer thumb drive. Ingber's model was a 3D swatch of lung tissue that acted like a human lung by "breathing."
Ingber had created a way for the sides of his model to contract and expand like an actual lung. This was revolutionary because until then the organs-on-a-chip did not do much to simulate the organs they represented.
Over the last two months, organ-on-a-chip scientists -- from Harvard and several businesses founded and ran by Harvard professors -- have visited ECBC. Salem and Dorsey have traveled to Harvard.
After seeing all of the capabilities that Harvard and ECBC have, the teams are excited about collaboration.
As an Army research laboratory, ECBC scientists have been studying organs-on-a-chip for several years by exposing organs-on-a-chip to chemicals, pharmaceuticals and chemical warfare agents.
Salem, ECBC chief scientist for life sciences, and his team assess the effectiveness and toxicity of chemicals and drugs in a way that is relevant to humans' and their ability to process them.
Harvard plans to provide its functioning lung model so that Salem's team can test biological and chemical warfare agents, as well as countermeasures, and compare with results of the static models studied.
This will allow them to learn more about how the body responds to agent exposure. The team will hopefully be able to use the testing results to explore treatment options and provide feedback to organ-on-a-chip scientists for development and use.
"Collaborating with top experts in the field, such as Harvard University, the Wyss Institute and others, the Army is living up to its reputation as a team player and innovator," ECBC Research and Technology Director Dr. Joseph Corriveau said. "While the center's research directly impacts the defense of our Warfighters, the organ-on-a-chip research will have a resounding global impact."
Founded by Ingber, the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering is part of Harvard. In 2005, Harvard convened a committee to envision the future of bioengineering, and it created the Wyss Institute. The institute applies its research to solve real-world problems.
Another major collaborator is the private company CellBridge. Founded by Harvard professor George Whiteseides, CellBridge performs similar studies to the Wyss Institute and develops technology solutions for the stem cell and 3D tissue culture markets. Researchers at the Wyss Institute and CellBridge frequently work together in their research.
"The Warfighter comes first," said Dr. Mitchell R. Zakin, Cellbridge's executive vice president and Harvard professor. "Our partnership with ECBC allows us to focus on emerging technologies on solving the most critical and operationally relevant problems."
The teams hope to leverage research being conducted at each site to advance the science of organ-on-a-chip research and to lead to other partnerships.
"There are many opportunities for mutually beneficial collaboration, and it is a very exciting time in this type of research. These key partnerships just make sense. We have so many common goals that we hope to achieve," Salem said.
ECBC researchers are also collaborating with the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Chemical Defense, Wake Forest University, Harvard and the University of Michigan.