Scientists at the Institute of Industrial Science, the University of Tokyo, have developed a blood vessel on a chip. The device makes it simpler to study angiogenesis, the process of new blood vessel growth. In addition, the technology could aid researchers in developing new anti-cancer drugs that act by inhibiting angiogenesis in tumors.
Angiogenesis is a therapeutic target for some anti-cancer drugs. Inhibiting blood vessel formation in tumors can slow their growth and is a promising therapeutic strategy. However, testing new angiogenesis-inhibiting drugs can be a challenge, and animal models are frequently required.
“The biochemistry of sprouting angiogenesis is well understood. What is lacking is a good system to study drugs that are effective on angiogenesis,” said Yukiko Matsunaga, a researcher at the University of Tokyo. Matsunaga and her colleagues developed a miniaturized device to address this issue.
The ‘organ-on-a-chip device’ consists of a single blood vessel running through a collagen gel, which is embedded within a chip. By using a thin acupuncture needle, the team was able to create a narrow channel within the collagen gel, and then seed it with endothelial cells to allow for a ‘blood vessel’ to grow. They were then able to visualize the blood vessel using a microscope, and observed the process of angiogenesis, where new capillaries sprouted from the original vessel when growth factors were delivered to the chip.
By adding the anti-cancer drugs sorafenib or sunitinib to the chip, the team observed that these angiogenesis inhibitors reduced the blood vessel sprouting on the chip. The team members hope that the device will provide an easy way for researchers to test new angiogenesis-inhibiting drugs. Angiogenesis is also a factor in other diseases such as diabetic retinopathy, so treatments for these conditions could also be tested, without the need for animal experiments.