Global Technology - November 2018

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Now, let’s examine the most important technological and scientific breakthroughs emerging from labs around the world.

A new biosensor allows researchers to track oxygen levels in real time in ‘organ-on-a-chip’ systems.  This makes it possible to ensure that such systems more closely mimic the functions of real organs.  This is essential if organs-on-a-chip are to achieve their potential in applications such as drug and toxicity testing.

The organ-on-a-chip concept has garnered significant attention from researchers for about a decade.  The idea is to create small-scale, biological structures that mimic a specific organ function, such as transferring oxygen from the air into the bloodstream in the same way that a lung does.  The goal is to use these organs-on-a-chip to expedite high-throughput testing to assess toxicity or to evaluate the effectiveness of new drugs.

But while organ-on-a-chip research has made significant advances in recent years, one obstacle to the use of these structures is the lack of tools designed to actually retrieve data from the system.

For the most part, the only existing ways of collecting data on what’s happening in an organ-on-a-chip are to conduct a bioassay, histology, or use some other technique that involves destroying the tissue.  But what they really need are tools that provide a means to collect data in real time without affecting the system’s operation.   That would enable them to collect and analyze data continuously while offering richer insights into what’s going on. 

As explained recently in the journal, Biosensors and Bioelectronics, a new biosensor developed by NC State and UNC researchers, does exactly that, at least for oxygen levels.

Oxygen levels vary widely across the body.  For example, in a healthy adult, lung tissue has an oxygen concentration of about 15 percent, while the inner lining of the intestine is around 0 percent.  This matter because oxygen directly affects tissue function.  If you want to know how an organ is going to behave normally, you need to maintain “normal” oxygen levels in your organ-on-a-chip when conducting experiments.

This means that researchers need a way to monitor oxygen levels not only in the...

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