Organ-on-chip platforms integrate complex tissues in a micro-physiological environment with the aim of simulating human biology outside the human body and even integrating aspects of the human immune system. The C19 lung chip project combines the skills and know-how of the Fraunhofer Institute for Interface Engineering and Biotechnology IGB in using organ-on-chip platforms for pharmaceutical studies with the expertise of the Fraunhofer Institute for Cell Therapy and Immunology IZI in infection models as well as its existing experience with the SARS-CoV-2 virus. The Department of Vaccines and Infection Models has the only safety level 3 laboratory within the Fraunhofer community. This constitutes a precondition for working with highly pathogenic viruses, such as the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Moreover, the Molecular Biotechnology department of the Fraunhofer Institute for Molecular Biology and Applied Ecology IME is another project partner.
At present, there are hopes of finding a treatment for COVID-19 infections through drug repurposing, i.e. the use (of combinations) of approved drugs. A number of possible candidate drugs have already been identified in various studies and there already are (more or less substantiated) reports regarding successful treatment for some of these.
In the framework of the C19 lung chip project, the scientists want to carry out non-clinical studies with the help of a lung model system. This helps to significantly speed up the first explorations as to the effectiveness of certain substances in the fight against SARS-CoV-2, compared with conventional methods, such as the use of animal models. Furthermore, the organ-on-chip technology is also supported by the fact that the current exceptional situation and the extreme strain on the healthcare systems make the execution of extensive and protracted clinical studies for a large number of possible therapeutics very difficult. Therefore, methods for the fast, resource-saving pre-clinical validation of possible candidate substances are very helpful. Against this backdrop, the C19 lung chip project initially aims to establish a COVID 19 lung infection model which simulates the pathogenesis of COVID-19. As a second step, this model is then to be used to test the effectiveness of up to 40 different substances or substance combinations.