Advances in biotech and tissue modeling
Recent Discoveries: Advances in Biotech and Tissue Modeling, Autumn 2016
The world of biotech and medicine is seeing significant breakthroughs across multiple disciplines, life-sciences and applications. The industry is full of great examples of cutting-edge innovation and exciting research. At Mimetas, we want to share some of the most exciting developments with you, as they improve the health of people around the world.
In this roundup, we’ll be exploring advances being made in Alzheimer’s, cardiopulmonary research, cancer modelling, 3D printing, and organ simulations to help doctors test for toxicity levels.
Progressing in the Fight Against Alzheimer's
Alzheimer’s is getting a lot of attention in the research community at the moment, with a special focus on understanding what causes the disease originally. New Scientist writes about how tau proteins interfere with neurons in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s: “We’re excited because we think we now have a handle on the link between tau and memory,” Dr. Li Gan of the Gladstone Institute of Neurological Disease tells New Scientist. “We’re also cautious because we know this may not be the only link. It’s still early days in understanding the mechanism.”
Elsewhere, the CoSTREAM project is exploring links between Alzheimer’s and strokes. “An essential concept of the CoSTREAM project is that stroke and Alzheimer’s disease are sequential diseases with overlapping pathophysiological mechanisms and shared risk factors.” The project wants to discover common risk factors, and why a quarter of stroke patients go on to develop dementia.
Building Heart Tissues and Micro-Muscles from Scratch
There’s more exciting science coming out of the Gladstone Institutes. Scientists there have found a way to create three-dimensional heart tissue from stem cells.
“We have created micro-scale heart tissues that will let scientists in stem cell biology and the drug industry study heart cells in their proper context," Nathaniel Huebsch, Ph.D., a postdoctoral fellow at Gladstone Institutes tells Medical Xpress.
“Our research shows you can create these complex tissues with a simple template,” Gladstone Institutes’ Bruce Conklin, MD, tells Medical Xpress. “We think that the micro heart muscle will provide a superior resource for developing more effective therapies for heart disease.”
Also, new research, as reported in Nature, is driving the creation of micro-muscles that will enhance diagnoses and drug-testing on hearts.
Our Work on Tissue Models
We’re pioneering human tissue models using our lab-on-a-chip technology. These 3D cultures make it much faster and easier to screen drugs and develop personalized treatments for patients. Currently, we’re working on disease and tissue models for the brain and neurons, blood vessels and microcapillaries, the gut, and the liver.
Cancer and Chemotherapy
Better Testing for Cancer Drugs in Synthetic Tumor Tissue
Medical News Today highlights breakthroughs in cancer research that will allow for easier drug testing and treatment of tumor cells.
In research from the journal Advanced Materials, engineers and scientists from the University of Illinois have developed a new microenvironment that “lies somewhere between the plastic lab plate and animal models that are created by injecting mice with human tumor cells.”
The material is adaptable, too. It can be shaped to model straight network shapes or snake-like network shapes — whatever the specific tissue calls for.
Continuous Monitoring from Inside the Body
Diagnosis from tools inside the human body are also seeing some rapid development.
Dark Daily describes an implantable laboratory on a chip that “monitors key chemicals in the blood.” These implants could be great for patients currently undergoing chemotherapy, for example.
“Though it is only a few cubic millimeters, the gadget includes five sensors, a radio transmitter, and a power delivery system,” says scientist and lead researcher Giovanni De Micheli.
Microbes in Your Gut Could Affect the Success of Cancer Treatments
Mathias Chamaillard at the University of Lille has discovered that the bacteria and microbiomes in our gut could impact how we respond to cancer treatment. When testing on mice, he found that those without gut bacteria weren’t able to fight off cancer as well as those who had normal gut bacteria.
As New Scientist reports: “Chamaillard thinks these bacteria prime the immune system in a way that facilitates the effects of the drug. He now plans to test whether the profiles of bacteria living in someone’s gut can predict how well they will respond to treatment.”
Mimetas’ Work in the Cancer Field
We’re proud to be furthering scientific research in diagnosing and treating cancer, making it easier for oncologists to screen and test drugs. Currently, we’re working on tissue and disease models for pancreatic cancer, glioblastoma, hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) and breast cancer.
3D Medical Printing Breakthroughs
One of the most revolutionary areas receiving funding and research attention is 3D printing and how it can help to further understanding, modelling and treatment.
Printing Ears and Bones
3D printers are also creating supportive structures that can be used elsewhere in the body.
Mike Murphy, writing at Quartz, breaks down the research from a paper in Nature Biotechnology published by Wake Forest University. He explains: “The 3D printer printer lays down what are called hydrogels — water-based solutions containing human cells. When the supporting materials dissolve and tissue finishes incubating in the machine, it could be potentially implanted into a person.
So far, the researchers have scanned and printed support structures for a human ear, a piece of jawbone, and muscles. They can also print out tissues that can accommodate blood vessels — essential if the tissue is to thrive.
Creating Complex Tissues Using 3D Medical Printing
At Harvard, scientists have discovered how to 3D print more durable, more complex human tissues.
“The team has managed to fabricate tissue that lives for an extended period and is 10 times stronger,” Futurism reports on the study, which was published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Science. “...The tissue survived up to six weeks, a spectacular length of time in bioprinting, by using vascular systems including both living cells and extracellular materials.”
Underpinning 3D medical printing technology is the need to create reliable structures that can support human tissue models.
One innovative approach uses a “gel scaffold” and a specialized 3D printing needle to precisely implant tissue into the gel. “The gel, which has the consistency of hand sanitizer, is made of an acrylic acid polymer,” New Scientist reports. “It works like a scaffold, allowing the printing of intricate patterns that would collapse without its support.”
Research lead Thomas Angelini tells New Scientist this could allow brain surgeons, for example, to 3D print parts of a brain to practice on before surgery.
There are also some exciting breakthroughs in printing 3D tissues. An abstract in ACS Biomaterials says, “3D printing technology allows us to create precisely controlled 3D tissue or organ models through localization of cells, biomolecules, and materials precisely similar to tissue specific microenvironments.”
Testing Toxicity Levels in the Lungs and the Liver
There are some interesting developments being made in simulating human lungs and the impact that harmful chemicals can have on them.
H-Insurance reports on a new technology to create an accurate 3D analog for human lung and respiratory tissue to test toxicity: “Since the damaging effect of inhaled toxicants usually results from repeated exposures to low doses over a prolonged period, it is important that cell culture systems maintain their physiology, in particular the ability to metabolize chemicals over time.”
There are lots of applications for this respiratory tissue technology. The model can simulate repeated exposures to hazardous chemicals over time, and it allows for easy comparison of toxicological effects.
Finally, Forbes’ Jennifer Hicks explores how engineers at UC San Diego are 3D printing liver tissue that simulates how a real human liver works. The goal is to use this liver tissue to test drugs and toxicity levels.
“The liver plays a critical role in how the body metabolizes drugs and produces proteins,” UCSD professor of medicine and bioengineering Shu Chien, who co-authored the study, tells Hicks. “This is why liver models are increasingly being developed in the lab as platforms for drug screening. However, existing models so far lack both the complex micro-architecture and diverse cell makeup of a real liver.”
Growing and Repairing Kidneys Using Stem Cells
There’s been a fascinating breakthrough, covered in New Scientist, about isolating stem cells found in the urine of newborn, premature babies. “They act like kidney cells, and do what kidney cells are supposed to do,” Elena Levtchenko at the Catholic University of Leuven tells New Scientist. Those stem cells could be used to repair damaged organs and expand medical treatments for kidney disease.