• Potomac Photonics
  • March 12, 2024

New NIST Heart on a Chip Microfluidic Platform Speeds Drug Discovery & Commercialization 

New NIST Heart on a Chip Microfluidic Platform Speeds Drug Discovery & Commercialization 

Animal testing has long been an established protocol in drug discovery programs. But there are systemic issues with the far from reliable methodology. In fact, only 10% of the drugs that move from animal testing to human clinical trials succeeds.

Such low yields increase the time and expense required to get pharmaceuticals to market, fueling complaints from insurers and government agencies on pricing structures in the industry. In addition, humans have become more sensitive to the plight of our animal test subjects, giving the pharmaceutical industry a poor moral image.

Consequently, academic and industry researchers have long sought a better system and it now seems that the long-expected viability of microfluidic technology in drug testing has become a front-runner in replacing animal testing.

Organ On A Chip

Microfluidic devices can create a controlled microenvironment that essentially duplicates an organ’s physiology and function by lining the device’s tiny channels with human organ and blood vessel cells. Drugs are then introduced into the ecosystem, so that specific interactions can be observed. The data regarding toxicity and other effects can be collected and now the FDA is accepting this type of data in lieu of animal testing data.

Many groups have demonstrated how various Organ On A Chip platforms, from Lungs at the Los Alamos National Lab to Corneas at Hong Kong University, perform. Organ-Chips’ predictive value in the drug-testing system has been shown to be viable, moving the method forward to mainstream acceptance.

Heart On A Chip

Dr. Darwin Reyes-Hernandez, a National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) biomedical engineer in the Microsystems and Nanotechnology Division of the Physical Measurement Laboratory (PML), and his team just published exciting breakthroughs in Heart on a Chip technology. The Lab on a Chip Journal paper describes the use of microfluidics technology to re-create Myocardial Infarction conditions to develop biotech treatments. What is commonly referred to as a “heart attack” is the death of heart cells due to lack of blood supply.

Interestingly, much like liver tissue, new advancements are showing successful regeneration of cardiac cells, leading to improved patient outcomes. Heart on a Chip speeds data collection in order to prove treatment efficacy and fast-track FDA approvals for human trials.

NIST’s New Platform

NIST’s Heart on a Chip is also fabricated on a new type of platform. Dr. Reyes-Hernandez explains that by miniaturizing the microfluidic system they are able to shrink the distances that cells must travel leading to much faster time to see interactions with external media. Using a novel trans-well design concept, cells can be trapped on the microfluidic device membrane’s top and bottom at a distance of approximately 11-microns.

Central to the platform fabrication are 10-micron wide gold electrodes used for impedance measurements. The process can measure in real time the continuous movement of cells which is also important in cancer research.

“Luckily”, Dr. Reyes-Hernandez points out, “we have access to the NIST NanoFab, an onsite photolithography Fab that allows our team to create the micro-structures needed for the new microfluidic platform design. Advanced manufacturing has enabled the advancement of a high-speed solution to treatments for one of the world’s leading killers.”

Advanced Manufacturing on the Micro Scale

NIST fosters innovation with state-of-the-art advanced manufacturing tools like the NanoFab. For groups without onsite resources needing high resolution fabrication in the 1 to 200-micron range, Potomac Photonics is able to help create miniaturization solutions with UV laser and micro-CNC micromachining. Our prototype to high volume production capability also creates prototypes that are Designed for Manufacturing, ensuring fast time to market and immediate scalability.

When you are looking for a miniaturization partner, be sure to turn to Potomac!



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