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Organ Chip Start-Up Gains $12 Million in Early Funds

Lung-on-a-chip device

Lung-on-a-chip device (Wyss Institute, Harvard University)

28 July 2014. Emulate Inc., a new company spun-off from a Harvard University bioengineering lab, raised $12 million in its first venture round to finance development of chip-like devices that mimic the functions of human organs. The funding round was led by NanoDimension, a venture capital company specializing in nanotechnologies, with Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and private investor Hansjörg Wyss.

The new company is a spin-off from Harvard’s Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering, also supported by Hansjörg Wyss, that conducts research on the science behind these devices. Organs-on-chips are clear, polymer plastic strips about the size of flash memory sticks, with fine channels lined with human cells and tissues that replicate the functions of organs in the body. They provide a more controlled and predictive way of testing the toxicity of drugs, chemicals, and cosmetics than lab animals, and also have potential for testing personalized treatments for diseases.

Emulate plans to develop and market chips that replicate functions of the lung, liver, intestine, kidney, skin, and eyes, as well as the blood-brain barrier, licensed from Wyss Institute research. The company also is expected to apply manufacturing techniques from the microchip industry, and produce software that offers an automated platform for users. In addition, the company anticipates being able to link the devices together to replicate whole-body functions, not just individual organs.

Much of the Wyss Institute’s research behind organs-on-chips was funded by National Institutes of Health, along with Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and Food and Drug Administration. In July 2012, the agencies issued grants totaling $70 million to Wyss Institute and 16 other recipients for studies on these devices. Earlier that year, Wyss Institute researchers published a paper describing a prototype gut-on-a-chip device they developed that performs wave-like muscle contractions similar to those in human intestines.

Emulate’s executives are drawn from Wyss Institute faculty. James Coon, the company’s CEO was entrepreneur-in-residence at Wyss Institute, while Geraldine Hamilton, was the institute’s lead staff scientist, and now Emulate’s president and chief scientist. Don Ingber, Wyss Institute’s founding director is the scientific founder of Emulate.

NanoDimension is a venture capital company in Woodside, California with offices in Zurich, Switzerland and Cayman Islands. The company invests in new enterprises commercializing technologies operating at atomic and molecular levels.

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