BioAlps | 20 years of innovation | HEPIA Tissue Engineering Lab
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Microtech tools meet novel integrated in vitro cellular model to help accelerate research
We are pleased to share with you our new testimonial series as part of our ecosystem’s 20th anniversary celebrations. The series aims to provide a platform for regional Life Sciences key players to present themselves, share their perspectives on the development of Western Switzerland’s Life Sciences ecosystem and their outlook on upcoming challenges and opportunities. The following article is presented to you by the HEPIA Tissue Engineering Lab.
Presentation of the HEPIA Tissue Engineering Lab’s activities
The activities of the HEPIA Tissue Engineering Lab, located at Campus Biotech, are linked to the bio-engineering fields. We use microtechnology tools developed by our UAS school to create novel integrated in vitro cellular model with the aim to provide companies with better research tools.
Major Life Sciences trends and developments
In 20 years, several major developments had great impacts in our bio-engineering field. The below 4 major trends focus on cell culture.
- First, with the discovery by Gurdon and Yamanaka (Nobel prize 2012) that mature cells can be reprogrammed to become pluripotent. Human induced pluripotent stem (hiPS) cells became a technological breakthrough in biology and this discovery has spread in a large number of laboratories. In our lab, it was the opportunity to have access to human neuron tissue with no ethical or supply issues. We embraced this technology and quickly replaced the embryonic stem cells derived cells for iPS cells.
- The second trend is 3D cell culture, which has been popularised with the term “organoid”, referring to a level of organisation similar to the reproduced organ. Compared to 2D cell culture, this technology provided additional complexity and therefore more physiological models. If there are key advantages, such as the presence of several types of cells and a real 3D connection, the difficulties are numerous, such as less reproducibility and less readouts available. There is also a technical limitation, as organoids are not perfused, limiting their size mainly due to cell oxygenation supply (organoids have a limited size due to the inability of oxygen to perfuse the whole organoid).
- Thirdly, the democratisation of tools such as 3D printing or laser cutting, enabling fast prototyping technologies, has led to the rise of the “Organ-on-chip” field.
- Finally, the last evolution was the fast development of informatics with the emergence of Artificial Intelligence (AI) to treat data, always more numerous in biology. Today, biologists are no longer interested by a state observed by single readout but are looking at entire processes through real-time monitoring in order to better understand the mechanism. These new readouts generate large amounts of data. Its manual treatment implies limitations which AI is now removing.
HEPIA Tissue Engineering Lab’s contribution to Life Sciences in Western Switzerland
All these scientific advances have made it possible for our HEPIA Tissue Engineering Lab, initially develop by Prof. Luc Stoppini and now headed by Prof. Adrien Roux, to develop human minibrain on a chip and its specific readout based on the analysis of neurons’ electrical signal, as well has the blood brain barrier where the integrity is monitored by bio-impedance. Both models are used in drug discovery and in toxicology assessment.
Significant foreseeable trends and challenges in Life Sciences
For the next 10 years, we will really see the application of AI becoming even more present. In our field, it means a more efficient and rapid pre-analysis of data generating immediate results and therefore speeding the development process. For our teaching institution, the evolution required will be to train the next generation of HES engineers able to understand work in this interdisciplinary environment.
Major events which have contributed to the development of Life Sciences
It is a subjective vision but we would like to highlight the strong presence of Merck Serono in Western Switzerland and specifically their research center at Sécheron in this beautiful environment which has become the Campus Biotech. Campus Biotech, a flagship of the Life Sciences community which has opened many opportunities in Life Sciences reinforced by key new players such as the Wyss Center. All this has contributed to the development of Life Sciences since the year 2000.
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