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“Sci-Fi Come to Life”: Improving Translational and Drug Research with Tissue and Organ Chips

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Ann Nguyen:

Hi everyone. Welcome to this podcast from Cambridge Healthtech Institute for the Second Annual FAST Congress on Functional Analysis & Screening Technologies, which runs November 17th through the 19th in Boston, Massachusetts. I'm Ann Nguyen, Associate Conference Producer.

We have with us today one of our keynote speakers for the Engineering Functional 3D Models and Organotypic Culture Models for Toxicology conferences, Dr. Kristin Fabre, Scientific Program Manager at NCATS, the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences at the National Institutes of Health.

Kristin, thanks so much for joining us.

Kristin Fabre:

My pleasure.

Ann Nguyen:

At NCATS, you work on the Tissue Chip for Drug Screening Program. Could you tell us a little bit about how you ended up there?

Kristin Fabre:

I was a postdoc for the National Cancer Institute and I was very interested in translational research, given that my background was radiation biology and translational research. I also was very interested in program and how things worked from the general view. I also was very interested in other programs, cutting-edge science. I was still looking around for program opportunities where I could be involved in that. That's how I stumbled upon this position, which is working at NCATS, as a program manager for the Tissue Chip Program.

Ann Nguyen:

Why are tissue and organ chips attracting increasing government attention and support? What are their perceived benefits for drug research and how close are we to seeing any?

Kristin Fabre:

That's a really good question. This is actually a really interesting program. To me, I feel like this is sci-fi come to life. What we do at NCATS, is we try to identify ways that we can make translational research work better. There's a difference between translational research, which is what a lot of scientists are familiar with, which is the bench to bedside, and translational science, which is how to improve the process of translational research. Which is what NCATS is all about. This program addresses that by trying to find another way for different technologies or methodologies to help with that translational research.

One of the problems that we have in drug discovery is that, in addition, we have in vitro models, we have standard experimental assays. We also have animal models, but both are limited. In vitro models are very 2D, they're very simplistic. They don't have that 3D or that multicellular complexity. They also don't have the mechanical stresses that the tissue would find if they were in the human body. Animal models can get you a step further, but obviously they're not humans, so they have different physiology.

We're very limited in how we can really assess drug responses and really understand the mechanisms of drug responses in specific tissues or organ-organ interactions, currently. The Tissue Chip Program is designed to address that problem. What these tissue chips are, of course, is to basically put these human tissues into a system that mimics human physiology. Those tissues are tricked into thinking they're in the human body, so that they begin to behave and function as if they were in the body.

Ann Nguyen:

Your keynote presentation for November 17th focuses on the Microphysiological Systems Program, organs on chips and drug screening. Can you share a little bit about what we'll be learning from you?

Kristin Fabre:

Sure. What we'll be talking about is, I'll focus on some of the problems which I just mentioned, with the drug discovery. There's actually a bottleneck in the pipeline right now, so we're trying to address that by creating this human surrogate technology, or this mimic of human physiology. I'll highlight the problems and how we aim to address that as a program. We actually are working with DARPA and FDA to address these really hard issues.

I'll highlight that program and how we actually manage the program. It's a novel way of doing science. This is a very difficult problem to address, so it's going to take experts from human physiology of all different organ systems, bioengineering, experts in stem cell technology. This is essentially going to take a village to address this really hard problem. By forming this consortium, which I aim to highlight in the presentation, we can address these issues.

Then I'll give a couple of examples on some of the progress that we've done, so far.

Ann Nguyen:

That sounds fantastic. We're really looking forward to hearing more from you in a couple of months. For now, Kristin, thank you so much for your time and insights today.

Kristin Fabre:

Thank you.

Ann Nguyen:

That was Dr. Kristin Fabre of NCATS at the NIH. She'll be giving her keynote presentation at the Engineering Functional 3D Models and Organotypic Culture Models for Toxicology conferences at the upcoming FAST Congress, which runs November 17th through the 19th in Boston. If you'd like to hear her in person, go to www.fastcongress.com for registration information and enter the keycode "Podcast." I'm Ann Nguyen. Thank you for listening.