Last week, we had the pleasure of welcoming Senator Arnaud Bazin and his collaborator, Madame Agnes Borie, at our Eden Tech offices in Paris to discuss the role of microfluidics as a tool for medical research. Senator Bazin, has extensive political experience in France, acting as Senator, following his role as President of the general and departmental councils of the Val-d’Oise department near Paris, for 6 years.
But more interestingly, both himself and his collaborator Madame Borie, are former veterinarians and are particularly concerned with the problems of animal experimentation for pharmaceutical and other life science applications. Therefore, they were excited to meet with Eden Tech CEO, Emmanuel Roy, and CMSO, Roberta Menezes, to find out more on the role microfluidics can play in the reduced use of animal models.
The Organ-On-Chip, potential alternative to animal testing
How can we harness this technology for research and reduce animal harm? Microfluidics is the manipulation of liquids at the micron scale, in tiny channels and chambers that are molded into plastic materials. One microfluidic device can be as small as the size of a palm, allowing the creation of portable experiments that use minimal amounts of precious reagents. This has led to the creation of a range of microfluidic technologies for applications, such as point-of-care diagnostics, next-generation sequencing, and namely, organ-on-chips. More recently the potential of organ-on-chip technology has been recognized, leading the World Economic Forum to name it one of its Top Ten Emerging Technologies.
Organ-on-chip tools are of particular interest for pharma and medical research because they can enable us to better understand the human body. Organ-on-chip devices enable the creation of 3D cellular microenvironments which closely mimic physiology, by integrating different cells and structures, and leading to functions observed in vivo. Key components of organ-on-chip designs are fluid shear force, concentration gradients, dynamic mechanical stress, and cell patterning. In turn, these enable cell proliferation, stimulation, and sensing to be studied . By recreating such environment, the goal is to have better insight into drug development, disease studies, and other medical applications. This can be a great advantage compared to 2D cell cultures which are overly simplified models, or in-vivo animal models which are low through-put, fail to replicate human conditions, and harm the animal.
Indeed, several studies compare organ-on-chip models to animal experimental models. For instance, a lab in the US studied the exposure of the lung epithelial cell to cigarette smoke. They obtained the same list of mutated genes with a 10 years study of patient lung and with a 2 month model of “lung-on-chip” . Emmanuel further highlights the particular importance of organ-on-chip models in the field of drugs for pediatric use, where the clinical trials are not possible, but the need for research remains present. We can already observe measures being taken in cosmetic research, where animal trials are forbidden, thanks to the REACH Regulation (Registration, Evaluation, Authorization and Restriction of Chemicals) of 2007 .
With over 35 years’ experience as a veterinarian, this a subject of special interest to Senator Bazin, who believes in the role of veterinarians as experts in the well-being of animals. In fact, he has recently spoken on the matter of animal protection at a 2020 event held by the OABA (Œuvre d’assistance aux bêtes d’abattoirs), a French equivalent of PETA. There, he expressed the need for veterinarians to do their part, not only as local practitioners, but also in the local and national political space. He also sees their important role in NGOs as advisors and consultants. Consequently, Senator Bazin is very interested in understanding how organ-on-chip models work, i.e. how the cells are selected, cultured, and inserted into the devices.
So, How does Eden Tech fit into all of this?
At Eden Tech, as we are striving to untap the potential of microfluidics to change industry. Our company was founded thanks to a new material, called the Flexdym, that was developed by our CEO Emmanuel during his time at the CNRC. This material, the first of its kind, has been developed specifically for microfluidics and biomedical applications. The Flexdym closely resembles one of microfluidics most popular materials: PDMS (Polydimethylsiloxane), a soft elastomer praised by academics for its biocompatibility, transparency, gas permeability and ease of handling. Thanks to PDMS, microfluidics has been able to expand beyond the fields of engineering and physics, and pique biologists’ interest, giving rise to a vast range of biomedical applications. However, there is an issue of scalability with PDMS. The material is not compatible with mass production processes, such as injection molding, which limits researchers’ abilities to translate PDMS microfluidic devices into products.
This is where Flexdym comes in. Flexdym incorporates many of the advantages of elastomers like PDMS, with the added bonus of being compatible with mass production processes. Thanks to Flexdym, we hope to finally give innovators a material option that can be used at all scales of production. During the development of this material, our main goal is to improve the user experience for those fabricating microfluidic devices, by focusing on protocol simplicity, fabrication time, and ease of commercialization.
Flexdym has already shown enormous potential when it comes to cell culture and organ-on-chip applications. It is a moderately hydrophobic material; yet, it displays highly stable hydrophilicity following plasma treatment. It also has the advantage of displaying reduced absorption and adsorption properties. Finally, it can bond to a variety of substrates (including PC, COC, PS, PMMA, glass…) at room temperature. This is a unique feature, opening to the door to surface functionalization with cells or other molecules.
Eden Medtech : leading the research in Organ-On-chip technologies
Emmanuel further expanded on the topic, highlighting Eden’s goals to also contribute to the creation of artificial organs using microfluidics. This is primarily the activity of Eden Medtech R&D department, which hopes to use biomimetic designs to create vascular microfluidic systems in the future. Emmanuel explains, “[…] there is complete coherence in mimicking the living being because, in essence, the living world is microfluidic. But with the aim of fabricating a complete organ with this technology […] we will also require 3D organization for the proper differentiation of cells. We [Eden Tech] have rigid and flexible materials, so we hope to connect our systems with pumps and simulate organs […]”. For the time being, Eden Medtech is already participating on various EU funded projects, such as RENOIR ITN, focused on the creation and control of cell regeneration in diseased muscles.
Senator Bazin finds all of these topics fascinating and appreciates the role organ-on-chips could play in healthcare and biomedical research.
The Senator and his collaborator Agnes Borie were delighted with their visit to Eden Tech and discover new innovative technologies, such as microfluidics, and its applications; these can help answer their concerns as veterinarians and head of the “Breeding” Study Group of the French senate.
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- Wu et al., (2020) Organ-on-chip : Recent Breakthroughs and future prospects, BioMed Eng Online, 19:9
- Kambez et al., (2020) Biomimetic smoking robot for in vitro inhalation exposure compatible with microfluidic organ chips, Nature protocols