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University Medical Center Groningen

Nearly €19 million from NWO for development and study of “organs-on-chips”

Organs-on-chips: miniature organs for research purposes
09 May 2017

It may sound futuristic, but it is possible: creating miniature versions of patients’ organs to study the development and treatment of diseases. This is what researchers from Leiden University Medical Centre (LUMC), University of Twente (UT), Technical University (TU) Delft, the Hubrecht Institute, and Cisca Wijmenga of the University Medical Centre Groningen (UMCG) aim to achieve in the next ten years. Together they’ve been awarded nearly €19 million by the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO) to work on this innovative project.

Growing live human cells and tissues outside the body takes place in ‘organs-on-chips’: small compartments on a silicon chip that simulate the conditions in the body. This is done with the help of tiny channels in the chips that allow the accurate administration of fluid to feed the growing cells. The fluid is fed and discharged through miniature pumps, and the behaviour of the cells can be measured using sensors. “In fact, you’re creating a small part of an organ”, says Christine Mummery, Professor of Developmental Biology at LUMC and UT. Mummery is the leader of the project, which also involves five other renowned Dutch scientists: neurologist Michel Ferrari (LUMC), nanotechnologists Albert van den Berg (UT) and Lina Sarro (TU Delft), cellular biologist Hans Clevers (Hubrecht Institute) and human geneticist Cisca Wijmenga (UMCG).

Research into heart, brain and intestinal cells

These researchers have been cooperating on Human Organ and Disease Model Technologies ( www.hDMT.technology ) for some time. Their focus is on generating heart, brain, intestinal and blood vessel cells grown from the stem cells of patients with specific diseases. These cells form the basis of the chip organs, which function similarly to organs in the human body: the heart models beat just like a real heart and the intestinal models have their own microbiome. Chip organs representing parts of the brain are being built in cooperation with Erasmus MC.

Figure from https://www.lumc.nl/over-het-lumc/nieuws/2017/mei/bijna-19-miljoen-organs-on-chips/
Figure from https://www.lumc.nl/over-het-lumc/nieuws/2017/mei/bijna-19-miljoen-organs-on-chips/

Research into the microbiome will take place at the UMCG

The UMCG part of the research will study how disrupting the balance of the intestinal bacteria – the microbiome – influences cardiovascular diseases. With three different organs-on-chips connected to each other, researchers can study their mutual influence. “In this way, you can study the underlying effects of healthy and sick organs and investigate what happens with the brain or the heart if intestinal bacteria get disrupted”, says Wijmenga. “The new project will benefit enormously from the knowledge and biomaterials which have been collected for the microbiome work we’ve performed on part of the LifeLines population cohort.”

Miniature organs as an alternative to animal models

The mini-organs also offer a good alternative to using animal models. “What happens in animals does not always accurately represent what happens in the human body. For example, a mouse heart beats 500 times per minute, but a human heart beats 60 times per minute. Certain parts of the mouse brain are radically different to the human brain and the mouse colon has a different function to the human colon”, says Mummery. “We also think that we can test and predict the beneficial effects and side-effects of new medications better and faster by using organs-on-chips.”

Will these mini-versions of the brain, heart and intestines help to treat or prevent diseases quickly? “That’s for the future”, say the researchers. “It takes time to develop new drugs and this research project will last ten years. We’re first going to investigate the processes of how diseases arise and then we’ll look for molecules that can influence these processes. We also want to study why some people with a hereditary disorder become seriously ill, while others with the same genetic mutation have much less severe symptoms.”

For more information on Professor Wijmenga’s research at UMCG see http://www.systemsgenetics.nl/; http://www.rug.nl/research/genetics/

Millions in grants for Groningen researchers from Gravitation programme

08 May 2017

Researchers from the University of Groningen (UG) will be making an important contribution to research projects which have been awarded millions of euros in grants by the Dutch government’s Gravitation programme. The University of Groningen is involved in four out of six projects that have been selected.

Researchers from the Faculty of Behavioural and Social Sciences are leading the SCOOP project. Researchers from Arts, Science & Engineering and the UMCG are contributing to the OIKOS, Organs-on-Chips and BASYC projects. Each project has been awarded €18.8 million.

Rector Magnificus Elmer Sterken is pleased with the result. “The Gravitation programme is one of the main sources of funding for academic research in the Netherlands. Its strength lies in the collaboration of excellent researchers from various Dutch universities. I am very pleased that the University of Groningen is making a substantial contribution to the projects that have been awarded grants. It confirms the status of researchers connected to our University.”

A special UG newspaper provides further information on the different Gravitation projects. See
http://www.rug.nl/news-and-events/news/archief2017/nieuwsberichten/rug_zwaartekrachtbrochure_engv2.pdf

Gravitation programme
The Dutch government has set up the Gravitation (Zwaartekracht) programme to stimulate consortia research by the best researchers in the Netherlands. It offers major funding for innovative and influential research proposals in a range of fields. The selection procedure is conducted by the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO). More information can be found at: https://www.nwo.nl/financiering/onze-financieringsinstrumenten/nwo/zwaartekracht/zwaartekracht.html

€19 million from NWO for development and study of “organs-on-chips” http://www.rug.nl/research/genetics/newsarchive/19-million-from-nwo-for-development-and-study-of-organs-on-chips

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