With Lorna Ewart, this year’s international MicroNano Conference has an appealing name on the ‘playlist’. Cambridge based Ewart leads the Microphysiological Centre of Excellence, part of the Innovative Medicines unit at the famous global biopharmaceutical company AstraZeneca. A preparational conversation with her shows how well she fits the profile the conference is aiming at: the industrial scientists.
Where the academic world is talking about ‘organs-on-chip’, Lorna references MPS, Micro-Physiological Systems. In the pharmaceutical industry currently this is mainly a system to generate information. It may be an alternative to animal testing. Furthermore, it turns out to be a method to make available the big data you cannot harvest from the traditional clinical tests on such a personalized level, at least not within the framework of what could be justified financially.
There is the connection. Organ on chip now links with big data and big pharma.
Why was Lorna Ewart keen to join the conference on December 12 and 13 in Amsterdam? “I am passionate about the subject and want to participate in building momentum” she says. This sounds like a scientist. At the same time highly pragmatic, “I also want to see what I can learn from the audience”. Cross-overs inspire and show new directions. “I hope build my knowledge of opportunities for future collaborations”. Ewart hints towards new research programs, whether or not based on European grants.
EU funding, that’s a tricky point. How will this evolve under the collapse of a Brexiting framework? Of course, Lorna Ewart is not in a position to comment. “My general feeling is that these kinds of developments and discussions take away the focus and fun from doing science”.
What remains is the promising perspective that AstraZeneca is already applying organs-on-chip technology. Most of the experiences are still unpublished. “It is mainly about safety assessment in the domain of drug discovery” Lorna Ewart points out. Besides, the company uses the technology to develop “a framework to guide scientists defining key needs and gaps in drug discovery”. The driver is not only the complexity of bringing together biology and chip technology, but also biosensors and big data. “We wish to bring this complexity down to the simplest unit and build systems in a logical way so that they help our scientists understand the response of human cells”.
Big pharma and big data, it really is a small world, thanks to the micronano technology.