National Geographic Features Innovative Research That Will Advance Precision Medicine

Perhaps the most difficult thing about rare disease research is that not only do the conditions affect only a small portion of the population, but like every diagnosis, they affect each individual in different ways. This means each patient ideally requires a unique treatment regime. Ultimately, researchers are faced with the task of uncovering the proper treatment for an infinite number of forms of the same condition.

In an effort to make this easier, a research team at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center has been working to develop a chip which can hold copies of patient’s stem cells. The chips are transparent and are only the size of a AA battery. This way, scientists can evaluate the effects of various therapies on these copies as opposed to the patient themselves. Their hope, is that this new technology will enhance their ability to create individualized treatment plans for patients.

But, the chips wouldn’t be useful if they only housed copies of patients cells. Researchers had to create an environment which would replicate the organs in the human body. This was an essential component of the project as it allowed cells to survive on the chip. But ultimately, it was important that cells weren’t just able to live on the chip- they also had to possess the same level of biological function as they do in a patient. This is the only way to guarantee studies using the chips would be accurate.

They’ve named this project Patient-on-a-Chip.

This research has just been featured in an issue of National Geographic magazine. The issue was titled “The Future of Medicine.” Cedars-Sinai researchers were given a spot on the very cover of the magazine.

How the chips have been used so far

So far, the chips have been used to investigate amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, inflammatory bowel disease (ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease), and ovarian cancer.

Researchers have created chips which replicate tissues in the intestinal lining as well as in the spinal cords, but they aren’t stopping there.

The cells which have gone into these chips have been created by reprogramming the blood or skin cells of patients and putting them in an embryonic state. The cell copies are called induced pluripotent stem calls (IPSCs). Researchers say IPSCs can be made into cells from any organ in the human body, meaning the research possibilities using these chips are endless.

Looking forward

Unfortunately, we probably still have a few years to wait before this technology can be used in real patients. But this discovery is a significant step forward for the research community. Furthermore, researchers at Cedars-Sinai have made it clear their goal is to translate this discovery to a space where it can be used by real patients as soon as physically possible.

To accelerate this goal, researchers launched a brand new program named Cedars-Sinai Precision Health. The overall aim of this program is to “rapidly enable a new era of personalized health” and the chips are a major component of the project.

You can read more about this new creation and the National Geographic article which recently featured it here.


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