The New Frontier in Drug Discovery
Identifying and developing effective new medicines is time-consuming and expensive. This may change thanks to Molecular Biology and Biochemistry Chair and Professor Christopher C.W. Hughes. At the 2019 Winter BioSci Dean’s Distinguished Lecture, Professor Hughes presented data on his quest to create “Body-on-a-Chip” technology, with the hope of ushering in a new age of drug discovery.
A professor of molecular biology and biochemistry and of biomedical engineering, Dr. Hughes spent the last decade developing a bioengineered micro-organ system. Also known as “organs-on-a-chip,” the names stem from the fact that the devices are fabricated using photolithography, which is used to make computer chips. These micro-organ systems come complete with blood vessels and can incorporate other cell types, such as neurons to model the brain, simulating miniaturized versions of human organ systems.
During his lecture, Professor Hughes guided the audience through his early work on creating a cell culture model for developing blood vessels, known as angiogenesis. This work would later translate to his implementation of blood vessels into the micro-organ systems. He spoke with elegance and style throughout the presentation, keeping the audience engaged and fascinated.
Professor Hughes saved the most translational part of the talk for last, discussing how the micro-organ systems could be used for future drug discovery. He and his colleagues recently began experiments with patient derived tumors. The researchers place the tumors into their micro-organ systems and test which cancer drugs are most effective at preventing tumor growth. With this method, Professor Hughes hopes the technology can help identify the optimal combination of cancer drugs to treat each individual patient – offering a truly personalized approach to cancer treatment.