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University of Bath

Modelling brain function through organ-on-chip platforms for drug discovery applications

We are developing a more realistic human brain cell culture model through microelectrode array and microfluidic circuit integration.

Most current practice for drug discovery involves routine animal testing with the aim to predict their effects on humans. This practice sacrifices laboratory animals, increases drug discovery costs and timelines. And it doesn't provide a human-specific testing environment. Organ-on-chip platforms aspire to change this practice by replicating human tissue functionality on microchips. This reduces the need for laboratory animals. And it allows high-throughput drug screening by exploiting the unique advantages of microfluidic technology:

  • exploitation of cells as testing platform
  • reduced reaction times
  • reduced reagent volumes
  • automation
  • miniaturisation
  • in-situ monitoring via integrated sensors

Our project focuses on developing brain models on chip. This allows us to monitor brain cell electrical activity in real time. In turn, this enables us to assess the effect of drugs specifically for brain-related conditions (e.g. neurodegenerative disease, brain tumours). Static brain cell culturing platforms do exist. But currently they don't closely assimilate the micro-environment of a living organism, where nutrient and gases are continuously renewed through the cardiovascular network. Therefore, they are not capable of substituting animal testing. We are developing the microfluidic technology enabling these currently static platforms to simulate as closely as possible in vivo testing.