The Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust has donated $1.8 million for the development of a gut-mimicking microdevice to help scientists better understand Crohn’s disease and develop new therapies.
The technology will be developed by Hyun Jung Kim, a biomedical engineering assistant professor at The University of Texas who has been developing these types of devices for a decade.
“I am humbled by the generosity of the Helmsley Charitable Trust,” he said in a news release. “I am also excited by the opportunity to help find answers to the root cause of a disease where much more research is needed.”
“Organ-on-a-chip” is, simply put, a see-through chip containing hollow channels that can be lined with different types of living human cells, providing a window into the workings of human organ systems. The technology offers a potential alternative to expensive and time-consuming animal testing.
Last year, Kim used organ-on-a-chip technology to identify the initiating factor of human gut inflammation. Kim reported that damage to the intestinal epithelial layer — a thin, single-cell barrier that blocks harmful microorganisms from entering the bloodstream and spreading throughout the body — triggered gut inflammation.
Damage to the intestinal epithelial layer causes leakage of gut bacteria into the bloodstream — a condition known as leaky gut. It has been associated with inflammatory bowel disorders such as ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease.
His findings were published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, in a study titled “Intestinal barrier dysfunction orchestrates the onset of inflammatory host-microbiome cross-talk in a human gut inflammation-on-a-chip”.
Helmsley’s $1.8 million research grant will help the researchers develop a Crohn’s disease-on-a-chip system, allowing them to learn more about the inflammatory bowel disease, specifically what causes and aggravates the inflammation process. Their findings are expected to contribute to the development of new treatments for the disease, which currently has no cure.
“Crohn’s disease is an extraordinarily complicated disease to figure out,” said Declan Fleming, MD, an associate professor in the department of surgery and perioperative care at the Dell Medical School who will help work on the development of the tiny technology. “We believe this research can lead to a new tool to help us address the complexity of this disease. This could lead to improved treatments or possibly even to reverse the progression of Crohn’s disease altogether.”
“There is a pressing need for more effective treatments for Crohn’s disease, and Helmsley is committed to finding more personalized options for patients,” said Garabet Yeretssian, director of Helmsley’s Crohn’s Disease Program. “This innovative ‘gut-on-a-chip’ technology has the potential to uncover triggers of Crohn’s disease, which will lead to improved therapies and ultimately better health outcomes.”
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