Wednesday, August 22, 2012

A Sneak Peek at Science Matters: Way Cool Wyss

On July 24, Harvard’s Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering announced a Cooperative Agreement worth up to $37 million from DARPA for development of an automated instrument integrating ten human organs-on-chips. The news triggered a bout of media coverage including stories on National Public Radio and the Discovery Channel as well as the print trades.

But two weeks earlier, we had been speaking to Wyss founding director Don Ingber about another program at the institute: the development of a nanoparticle technology that uses physical shear force to target occluded blood vessels and deploy the clot-busting drug tPA, which is then effective at one-hundredth of the current therapeutic dose, preventing unwanted bleeding elsewhere. (The image above shows a blood clot within a mouse artery beginning to disappear following the injection of the nanotherapeutic.)  The drug delivery technology could conceivably be used to deliver an array of drugs to diseases characterized by vessel constriction, including heart attack and stroke. It was reported in the July 5 issue of Science Express and is the subject of next month’s Science Matters column in START-UP (a sneak peek of the story is available to readers now here).

When we spoke, Ingber also gave us a heads-up on the organs-on-chips development, which he called “a huge effort” at the Wyss. “We use microfluidics to model the physical as well as the chemical microenvironment and we can get functionality nobody’s ever seen before, in vitro,” he said. “We’ve really found that modeling the 3D physical environment is incredibly powerful for drug screening, disease models, toxicology and so forth.”

The nanoparticle technology was similarly inspired. The modeling of vascular occlusion on which it is based is an offshoot of an idea Ingber had in the 1990s, when DARPA was seeking ways to induce blood clotting in soldiers without knowing where the internal bleeding injury was, and Ingber thought to devise platelet mimetics that would use the higher shear force inside a cut blood vessel as a targeting mechanism. The nanoparticle idea takes a 180 degree turn – using the understanding of the mechanics of how platelets travel in the vasculature and settle at sites of injury to stop rather than induce clotting.

Both programs exemplify the Wyss’ mechano-biological world view. The organs-on-chips effort could greatly advance drug safety and efficacy testing. But we sense Ingber has a special soft spot for the nanoparticles. “This is one I am personally committed to giving our best shot to take it to the clinic,” he says.

Image courtesy of the Wyss Institute.


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Maggie @ Snag A Bargain said...

Nanoparticle technology is very intriguing. Can't wait to read more about it.

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