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One step closer to human organs-on-chips

​The ability to maintain human cells and organoids (which replicate the functioning of in vivo organs) in culture could help advance personalized medicine and provide an alternative to animal testing. In research conducted for the Panache project, CEA scientists successfully maintained pancreatic cells called islets of Langerhans in culture.

Published on 10 March 2022

​Organs-on-chips are miniature models of human physiological and pathological phenomena. Generally made from 3D cell cultures, organs-on-chips leverage advances in microelectronics, cellular engineering, microfluidics, and nanosensors—all areas in which the CEA excels. In research conducted for the Panache project, CEA scientists made a significant advance when they maintained living, functional islets of Langerhans in a microfluidic component for more than a month. 

Islets of Langerhans, spherical pancreatic cells measuring 150 microns to 500 microns in diameter, are responsible for insulin secretion. Scientists from CEA-Leti and CEA-Irig reproduced the most natural environment possible to maintain the islets, or cell clusters. The microfluidic component they developed for the research is made of a thermoplastic polymer with hot-embossed microstructures (channels, pillars, etc.) protected by a heat-sealed cover. Endothelial cells are cultured in a hydrogel mimicking the extracellular matrix that is injected into the geometrically-appropriate environment created by the microstructures. The islets of Langerhans are immersed in this hydrogel. The self-organizing endothelial cells form networks around the islets of Langerhans, enabling nutrients to circulate via the controlled flows inside the microfluidic system. The device developed also included support cells, which kept the endothelial cell network in a functional state for 43 days.

The research can be applied to other kinds of cells and, therefore, organs. Additionally, the device could be equipped with various kinds of sensors so that the composition of the culture medium and secretions can be imaged and monitored, for example. Organs-on-chips can be used to study pathogenesis (like the link between diabetes and cancer in this research), support drug development by enabling in vitro preclinical trials instead of animal testing, and improve the efficacy of personalized treatments. 

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