UW/Nortis Bio Among 17 Recipients of $132M Tissue Chip Project Awards

A Seattle team of UW researchers in partnership with biotech start-up company Nortis, are among 17 research projects funded to improve methods for predicting whether newly developed drugs will be safe in humans by creating human tissues on a chip. NIH, DARPA and the FDA plan to contribute $132 million over the next five years to fund this initiative.

The goal is to develop human tissue chips that simulate the structure and function of human organs, such the lung, heart, liver, and kidneys. Scientists could then use these tissue chips to test drug candidates and predict their safety before the next step, clinical studies. The Seattle team has been selected to focus on the kidney, while other award recipients will focus on different human organ systems.

Led by Dr. Jonathan Himmelfarb, University of Washington Professor of Medicine and Director of the Kidney Research Institute, the Seattle team will use the chips to simulate the kidney. Half the size of a credit card, the chips are populated with living cells in a 3D tissue microenvironment designed to replicate the complex biological function of a specific organ. So instead of using real human kidneys, the team will grow a kidney model to see the damage from a tested drug.

The team will closely collaborate with the biotech comany Nortis, which will contribute its tissue-chip technology and bioreactor platforms. Nortis resides in the University of Washington C4C New Ventures Facility and was founded by former University of Washington faculty Thomas Neumann and Alan Nelson. The company has pioneered techniques for the in vitro creation of small-scale units of human tissues and organs in disposable chip-like devices. Tissue models of the human brain, vasculature, and a cancer model will be available on the market in about two years.

According to Dr. Neumann, the Seattle team plans to extend their research beyond the kidney to a number of other organs such as the liver, intestine, reproductive organs, and immune system. Nortis believes that human “body-on-a-chip” systems represent important alternatives to laboratory animals and are expected to become the gold standard for the testing of drugs, vaccines, toxic compounds, cosmetics, and warfare countermeasures.

Media coverage:

Seattle Times: “UW works to simulate kidney, in hopes of improving drug trials”

NBCNews: “Federal agencies kick off $132 million effort to create ‘human on a chip’

UW Today: “Seattle researchers to engineer kidney tissue chip for predicting drug safety”