The COVID-19 pandemic is having a huge impact on every aspect of our lives. From the burden on our personal life to the restrictions it has put on our working life. We, as Organ-on-Chip (OoC) researchers haven’t been spared and most of us have only been able to show off our practical skills in alternative forms. While this has probably resulted in the creation of beautiful cakes and unlocking of legendary achievements on the PlayStation, it has not been the societal impact we were looking for. Having said this, it hasn’t been a surprise to see a range of initiatives regarding COVID-19 research from our OoC field. In this way, supporting the millions of people worldwide suffering from the virus and as a bonus proofing its added value to the scientific spectrum.

Within the NOCI-consortium, several labs have already made the effort to accommodate COVID-19 research while complying to the strict safety regulations set by the government. The Clevers group used their human small intestinal organoids to demonstrate that the SARS-CoV-2-virus can replicate in intestinal epithelial cells. The University of Twente is setting up a collaboration with the University of Leiden and University of Nijmegen to develop a platform to study COVID-19 in their heart-on-chip and lung-on-chip model. In the meantime, the University Medical Center Groningen is setting up a collaboration between their geneticists and virologists to study the effect of COVID-19 patient plasma on endothelial cells. Looking beyond our consortium, there have been several OOC groups repurposing their tools to study COVID-19. One example is the combined effort of the National Research Council of Canada and the University of Toronto. Here they are adapting the previously established models in the lab of Milica Radisic, to study the interaction between the virus and various epithelial barriers such as nose, mouth, eyes and lung. Furthermore, there is a great effort from the Wyss institute, led by Donald Ingber, to demonstrate the applicability and flexibility of OOC models. Their recent preprint in BioRxiv shows great promise in the application of their lung-on-chip model in gaining knowledge about the virus and testing the efficacy of potential drugs.

Overall, it will still be an alien world for some time to come. A new way of working for everyone, adjusting to new regulations and protocols to keep our society healthy. Amongst this, the OoC research is an inspiring example of trying to make the most out of difficult times.

Additional reading

  • Item from the University of Twente, including Andries van der Meer on the topic of COVID-19 research and OOCs.

  • Item from the University of Toronto, including Milica Radisic on the topic of COVID-19 research and OOCs.

  • M.M. Lamers, J. Beumer, J. van der Vaart, K. Knoops, J. Puschhof, et al. (2020). SARS-CoV-2 productively infects human gut enterocytes. Science.

  • L. Si, H. Bai, M. Rodas, W. Cao, C.Y. Oh, et al. (2020). Human organs-on-chips as tools for repurposing approved drugs as potential influenza and COVID19 therapeutics in viral pandemics. bioRxiv preprint.


Dennis Nahon NOCI PhD-student at LUMC