Organ-on-polymer-chip technology named design of the year by prestigio

A technology that replicates human organs on a chip developed by the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University in Boston has won the overall Design of the Year 2015 Award, the most prestigious honor of its kind in the United Kingdom. It was also named the winner in the Product Design category.

Calling it a “brilliant piece of design,” Deyan Sudjic, Director of the Design Museum of London, noted that the researchers “identified a serious problem—how do we predict how human cells will behave?—and solved it with elegance and economy of means, putting technology from apparently unrelated fields to work in new ways.” The technology has the potential to dramatically change drug development by reducing the need and possibly eliminating animal testing while achieving more accurate predictive results.

Image courtesy Wyss Institute at Harvard University.

Wyss Institute Senior Staff Scientist Anthony Bahinski, PhD, who played a key role in the development of the technology, accepted the award on June 22 at the Design Museum of London. He accepted the Product and Design of the Year awards on behalf of Wyss Founding Director Donald E. Ingber, MD, PhD, and former Wyss Technology Development Fellow Dan Dongeun Huh, PhD, who collaborated and first designed the initial human organ on a chip in 2010.

Applying a technology adapted from computer chip fabrication, Ingber and Huh used photolithography to produce a device made from silicone and a flexible polymer containing hollow micro channels lined with living organ cells and blood capillary cells. Vacuum-powered movements replicate organ movements in the device, which is approximately the size of a memory stick.

Since Ingber and Huh designed the first lung on a chip, several additional human organs on chips have been developed at the Wyss Institute, thanks to the efforts of a multidisciplinary team of scientists, according to a news release on the Wyss Institute website. The accuracy with which the chips emulate human organ-level functions could make animal testing obsolete by providing a faster, less expensive and less controversial means of predicting whether new drug compounds will be successful in human clinical trials. Startup company Emulate Inc. was established in 2014 to commercialize the technology. Thus far, scientists have recreated the functions of 15 organs, and more are on the way.

“This is an extremely meaningful moment, as the intersection of science and design has been a constant source of inspiration throughout my career,” said Ingber. “To have the microscopic elegance and function of human organs on chips recognized in an international design forum is a powerful testament to the breadth and depth at which design principles contribute to biological function as well as technological advancement, and it is a recognition for which I am deeply honored to receive on behalf of the Wyss Institute,” said Ingber.

The winning product along with 75 nominees in the Designs of the Year Awards are on display at the Design Museum in London until March 31, 2016.

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