Organs on a Bio-Chip
In research, animal experiments are usually not totally sufficient. This also applies to the search for a remedy for arthritis. Over 300 million people suffer from it. The young Viennese biotechnology company PreGenerate is working in the Startup Labs Vienna on a new method with organic chips
You developed an „organ-on-a-chip-model“: How does it work?
Spun out of the TUWien and Vetmeduni Wien, our technology is a simple way to look at a complicated disease - we take cartilage cells and simulate their native environment within our chip so that the cells behave in a more lifelike way. This allows us to measure how the cells respond to inflammation and different medications in a more clinically relevant way. The simple features of the chip, like the intermittent supply of liquid nutrients, mimic some of the conditions natural to cartilage such as lack of blood supply and varying stresses the tissue experiences.
Arthritis is a much more prevalent and insidious disease than we often acknowledge, affecting about 325 million people worldwide and accounting for a massive socioeconomic burden. For example, in the US alone arthritis cost >$300 Billion in direct health care costs and lost job wages in 2013. What is worse though, is the forecasted increase in arthritis patients by 100% in the next 20 years - most new patients are under the age of 64! Generally, women may be more affected and science is revealing some important relationships between arthritis and fatal diseases including diabetes, heart disease, clinical depression and others. The most discouraging statistic here though remains the unmet need: despite more than 80 years of research, there is still no cure for arthritis and only about 1/3 patients respond to state of the art treatment.
What are the advantages of this method?
There are many advantages. First, cartilage cells don't behave as they would in vivo unless they have a 3D environment similar to their native situation and function. Thus, many traditional models aren't as effective at recreating what happens in a joint as scientists hoped. Furthermore, animal models suffer from high variability from animal to animal, as well as unacceptably high failure rates when translated to use in humans. One of the difficulties in treating arthritis is being able to assess how individuals respond to the disease, and to predict who might benefit most from which treatment. We aim to account for just such lack of data - at a personal level.
Are there already results of your research?
We do have some early results, based on our proof of concept work in horses. Horses, and other pet species, also suffer from naturally occuring arthritis. As a senior surgeon at the Vetmeduni Wien Pferdechirurgie, I was fortunate to research and develop this technology as my PhD. I knew then how challenged we veterinarians were by this progressive disease, but it wasn't until I injured my own knee that I learned just how significant a problem arthritis remains in human medicine, and the chance this technology has to positively impact so many lives around the world, both human and animal.
What are the next steps?
Currently we are developing some promising new features to further scale our high throughput technology - I can't go into details about these yet. We are also organizing some exciting international pilot projects and look forward to these results coming soon so, for now, stay tuned!
Services provided by the Vienna Business Agency:
With PreGenerate, Julie Rosser is one of the first life science start-ups to conduct research in the Startup Labs Vienna on the Bio Center Campus initiated by the Vienna Business Agency.
Dr. vet.med. Julie Rosser, CEO
Startup Labs Vienna Bio Center