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Published on August 21, 2020

In May, in partnership with Kirkstall Ltd, we launched a call for proposals from scientists centered around the use of innovative organ-on-a-chip technology. Together, we are providing cutting edge organ-on-a-chip systems to researchers without charge, to target solutions to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Traditional animal research has failed to give us the answers scientists need to treat human diseases. The devastating coronavirus pandemic highlights the urgent need to replace the time and money we put into misleading research of disease and to focus instead on human based biology and human relevant technology such as the Quasi Vivo® organ-on-a-chip system.

We are excited to announce that we have awarded 4 grants to scientists in the UK and the USA. Each project explores new ideas in animal free research that directly relate to ongoing COVID-19 research. Read on to find out more about these exciting projects.

Modelling early immune responses to SARS-CoV-2 in a fluidic system

Name: Dr Carolina Herrera

Location: Imperial College London

Animals to be replaced: Monkeys, Hamsters, Ferrets

We propose to develop a model that mimics infection of by SARS-CoV-2 taking into consideration the natural flow of lymph and blood in the body. With this model we want to assess the cellular responses to the entry of SARS-CoV-2 in cells from the respiratory tract and the effect of such responses on circulating blood cells from the immune system. We will be able to isolate the responses triggered by viral entry using a virus that cannot replicate in the infected cell. We will also test drug candidates for their potential to inhibit the first steps of infection and therefore the first stage of the inflammation process.

The Kirkstall system allows us to measure the number of infected cells and their responses to the infection; and at the same time to observe the consequences of the infection on blood cells that are circulating, mimicking what happens in the human body.

A human-relevant system to investigate obesity, diabetes and COVID-19

Name: Dr Mark Turner

Location: University of Coventry

Animals to be replaced: Rats, Mice, Monkeys

Obesity and type 2 diabetes impacts the function of several organs in the body which can result in the development of other diseases but also increase the susceptibility of viral infections. It has been shown that obesity is a risk factor for developing severe symptoms from COVID-19 and therefore understanding why this is the case is high important for scientists and doctors.

Animals have been used to investigate obesity, however making comparisons is difficult due to the differences between animals and human metabolism. Therefore, developing a system which replaces animal use and accurately replicates human obesity can address this issue. This project aims to establish a multi tissues model in the Quasi Vivo system which replicates human obesity which can be used to understand how different tissues behave and communicate with each other as well as the influence of diseases like COVID-19 in obesity.

Susceptibility of COPD and cigarette smoke airway epithelia to SARS-CoV-2

Name: Dr Baishakhi Ghosh

Location: Johns Hopkins School of Public Health

Animals to be replaced: Mice

The lungs are the organs most affected by COVID-19 as the SARS-CoV-2 virus results in asymptomatic or mild symptoms hospitalizations and mortality due to respiratory failure. Given the enormous impact of the virus on health and well-being, it is important to get insight into its pathogenic interaction with humans. We are exploring the epithelial changes that lead to increased susceptibility to disease, and also, quantifying changes that occur after viral exposure to determine the likelihood of chronic respiratory disease even after recovery from acute infection.

Our understanding of the role of environmental exposures such as cigarette-smoke or vaping electronic cigarettes in modifying the response to SARS-CoV-2 is emerging and smoking has been associated with worsened outcomes in SARS-CoV-2 patients. The proposed study will improve our understanding of how cigarette smoke increases our susceptibility to SARS-CoV-2 infection in the lungs and help in developing a therapy for prevention and treatment.

TB/COVID-19 co-infections within a 3D in vitro imaging system

Name: Dr Samantha Donnellan

Location: Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine

Animals to be replaced: Mice, rats

This project will develop a 3D model for monitoring co-infections of these two airborne pathogens, Tuberculosis and SARS-CoV-2, to better understand, at the biological level, what happens during a co-infection within the QV900 system. This model will be developed within a containment level 3 laboratory imaging suite. Once established, this model can be used for multiple immunological and drug screening studies.

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