Home / Blog / Physiome on a chip

Physiome on a chip

Physiome-on-a-chip” is a microfluidic platform that can connect 3D tissues from up to 10 “organs on chips” — allowing researchers to accurately replicate human-organ interactions for weeks at a time. Credit: Felice Frankel

I guess you have run into some “ome” words, surely genome, possibly “metabolome” and “proteome”. Each one describes a living being, be it a snail or a Homo Sapiens, in terms of some set of information (the genome is describing the living being in terms of its DNA, gene, code).

So it shouldn’t be really a surprise hearing the word “Physiome”.  A physione is the set of information describing the physiological processes in a living being, including digestion, respiration, excretion, processing….

It is of great importance in understanding both the workings of a single system/organ and the interactions among the various systems. It is also important to understand how changes in a system may affect another, a crucial issue when testing medicines. You want to be sure that the pill works (e.g. lowers the blood pressure) and that it is not affecting adversely other systems.

This sort of testing is time consuming and pretty expensive.  Here is where the DARPA funded “body on a chip” comes in.

It is a micro-fluidic chip (made by assembling micro tubules) created by MIT bio-engineers that can be customised to host up to 10 different micro-organs, that is cells having a 3D structure mimicking the one of the organ represented.

The micro-tubule connect the various sets of cells and can transport the drug and its derivate (substances resulting from the metabolisation of the drug by one organ). Pumps embedded in the chip push the liquid from one cells set to the other. The cells are contained in reservoir allowing them to multiply (grow) so that also the effects on growth can be checked (in some situation, like cancer, you want to test that the drug is stopping their growth, in others like burnt you want to promote their growth). A single chip can host up to 2o million cells clustered in 10 different organs: liver, gut, lung, heart, endometrium, brain, pancreas, kidney, skin, skeletal muscle.

Some of these organs (clusters of 1 to 2 million cells) may come directly from a patient, allowing the testing of a drug before it is administered. Since one can test the drug effect on the real patient cells/organs one can get much more accurate data.

A first application being tested is to understand the effect of interaction among gut, liver and brain in the Parkinson disease to verify the hypotheses that some kind of bacteria present in the gut have an impact on the evolution of Parkinson. Another study looks at tumours to study the mechanism of metastases generation.

Notice that there have been several “organ-on-a-chip” invented in the last ten years but none has the capability of hosting up to 10 organs, this is the very first physiome-on-a-chip. The flexibility, openness and low cost are the key ingredient that can promote the success of this chip.

About Roberto Saracco

Roberto Saracco fell in love with technology and its implications long time ago. His background is in math and computer science. Until April 2017 he led the EIT Digital Italian Node and then was head of the Industrial Doctoral School of EIT Digital up to September 2018. Previously, up to December 2011 he was the Director of the Telecom Italia Future Centre in Venice, looking at the interplay of technology evolution, economics and society. At the turn of the century he led a World Bank-Infodev project to stimulate entrepreneurship in Latin America. He is a senior member of IEEE where he leads the Industry Advisory Board within the Future Directions Committee and co-chairs the Digital Reality Initiative. He teaches a Master course on Technology Forecasting and Market impact at the University of Trento. He has published over 100 papers in journals and magazines and 14 books.