Stories about: microfabrication

Capturing complexity: Modeling bone marrow on a chip

Bone marrow on a chip organs on chips Wyss Institute Donald Ingber
Microscopic view of the engineered bone with an opening exposing the internal trabecular bony network, overlaid with colored images of blood cells and a supportive vascular network that fill the open spaces in the bone marrow-on-a-chip. (James Weaver, Harvard's Wyss Institute)

We’ve had a lung on a chip, and a gut on a chip. Now researchers at the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering have added another tissue to their list of “organs-on-chips”— devices that mimic in vitro tissues’ in vivo structure and function for pharmaceutical discovery and testing. In a paper published in Nature Methods, a team led by Donald Ingber, MD, PhD, (a member of Boston Children’s Hospital’s Vascular Biology Program and founding director of the Wyss), announced that they have developed “bone marrow-on-a-chip.”

The sheer complexity of the new device sets it apart from the Wyss’s previous organs, reflecting the greater natural complexity of bone marrow.

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Building a body, one organ chip at a time

It may not look like it, but it's a lung, just in chip form.

They don’t look like much sitting in your hand. A few pieces of clear plastic, each smaller than an Altoids tin, with channels visible inside and holes for plugging tubing into them.

But fill them with cells and treat those cells the right way, and they turn into something amazing: tiny hearts, lungs, guts, kidneys.

They’re “organs on chips,” and they represent what’s probably the most comprehensive effort to date to physically model the functions of whole organs for drug development and disease research.

Developed by a team of biologists and engineers led by Donald Ingber, MD, PhD, a member of Boston Children’s Hospital’s Vascular Biology Program and director of the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard, they’re the building blocks for an ambitious project to create an artificial multi-organ system—essentially, a whole body on a chip.

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Beating-heart surgery and the search for a killer app

Concept for a new kind of surgical robot (click to enlarge)

Inventors and engineers tend to come up with ideas and technologies first, then say, “This is cool, what’s it good for?” Clinicians tend to say, “Here’s my clinical problem, how can I solve it?”

This was roughly the thinking that brought together Boston University engineer Pierre Dupont and Pedro del Nido, chief of Cardiac Surgery at Children’s Hospital Boston.

Dupont had a vision for a next-generation surgical robot. del Nido had a vision of doing complex cardiac repairs in children while their hearts are still beating. Could they create a viable technology?

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Children’s innovations demonstrated at TEDMED

During breaks at TEDMED, Children’s Hospital Boston is demonstrating a sampling of its technologies. Medgadget, the Internet Journal of Emerging Medical Technologies, came by to watch and posted these videos.

Above, Children’s engineer Pierre Dupont describes a new way of fixing children’s hearts — with enhanced, robot-guided catheters and tiny surgical tools that he’s developing with Pedro del Nido, chief of Cardiac Surgery. We hope these tools (shown at their true miniscule size and in large models) and the robotic system driving them will allow children, especially babies, avoid the rigors of open-heart surgery. Instead, a short-stay catheterization procedure could be performed while their hearts are still beating.

Here, Children’s epidemiologist-informatician John Brownstein explains some of the new features of HealthMap, an Internet-based infectious-disease tracking system. He zeroes in on Haiti’s emerging cholera outbreak, in which a “crisis mappers” community on the ground is sending real-time data to HealthMap via iPhone and iPad.

Read more about innovations at Children’s on our website, and stay with Vectorblog and our Twitter feed (@science4care) for continuing TEDMED coverage.

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TEDMED here we come

Move over, Ozzy Ozbourne. Next Wednesday, October 27th, Children’s neurologist-neuroscientist and TEDMED speaker Frances Jensen will compare and contrast the developing infant brain with the highly paradoxical teen brain – which is also developing rapidly, all the way to age 25 or so. Infant and teen brains are at opposite ends of the developmental spectrum — almost different species, Jensen says – but they’re both extremely dynamic and exquisitely sensitive to environmental factors (drugs and alcohol in teens and brain injury and seizures in infants).

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Drug-testing alternative: a lung on a chip


Combining microfabrication techniques from the computer industry with modern tissue engineering, a team at Children’s Hospital Boston and Harvard’s Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering has created a device that mimics the function of a human lung. This living “lung-on-a-chip,” which incorporates human lung and blood-vessel cells, reproduces the all-important interface between the lung’s tiny air sacs and the bloodstream. Breathing is simulated with a vacuum pump.

The wafer-sized device mimics the human lung’s response to infectious agents, airborne particles and toxins in a way that’s truer to real life than standard cell testing in a lab dish.

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Could clothing teach babies with brain injury how to move?

 

 

The seemingly random flailing of a newborn’s arms and legs is more important than it looks – it’s how babies begin to explore the physical world and their place in it. This motion-capture movie shows the normal kicking of a 5-month-old, but when a baby’s muscles are weakened by brain injury, this exploration is curtailed. It becomes a vicious cycle: the motor parts of the brain can’t develop properly, impairing mobility even further. Psychologist Eugene Goldfield, PhD, of the Center for Behavioral Science at Children’s Hospital Boston, with a team of engineers and scientists at the Wyss Institute, is in the early stages of a project that could help break this cycle for babies with cerebral palsy.

Goldfield calls it the “second skin” – smart clothing whose fabric, studded with tiny sensors, would pick up attempts at motion.

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Networking: the mother of invention

Infant kicking data being captured for the "second skin"

Two or three years ago, seeing all the children in wheelchairs coming to Children’s Hospital, I asked myself whether I might be able to contribute something tangible to help restore their mobility. A psychologist by training, I had published some academic articles on how young children become independently mobile. But I’ve also always liked to build things.

It became clear that anything I wanted to build would require skills I didn’t have. I envisioned a form-fitting, electronic garment that a child with a brain injury could wear to assist his or her biological muscles, teaching the brain how the body should move. How on earth could I get the money to build such a garment, and who could help me?

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