In this interview with MEDICA-tradefair.com, Prof. Thomas Korff talks about the possibilities and limitations of organ-on-a-chip technologies, explains their advantages in laboratory analytics and describes the role they might play in medical research in the future.
Prof. Korff, what are the limitations of organ-on-a-chip technologies?
Prof. Thomas Korff: During my doctoral thesis on organoids back in the late nineties, I had seen firsthand how much people are interested in this technology, what researchers can achieve with it, and how quickly they can get answers to questions when these systems work as intended. However, this immediately also reveals the limitations of this technology: organ-on-a-chip systems are reductionist models of a living organism, i.e., specifically matched organ systems in which the individual components of the organism interact with each another. The system illustrates organs and their functions quite well and answers questions pertaining to simple disease models, such as lung infections, or the cell-specific effects of therapeutic agents. This process is more difficult when it comes to complex, multifactorial or chronic diseases like atherosclerosis. What’s more, the chips can so far not be used as it pertains to the nervous system, making it impossible to study any pain management or medication options. Complexity is our limitation in this setting: we are unable to represent the body as such, but only various organ-specific functions.
What are the best applications for these systems?
Korff: Thanks to the specific structure, the systems are essential in answering accurately defined questions. For example, you can use liver and kidney cells to conduct toxicity and metabolic testing and determine how fast drugs are broken down, what concentrations cause cell injury and how the ingredients are being metabolized. In some instances, organ chips are already being used to test for responses to therapeutic antibodies, with the goal to use them in humans at a later point.