Gum-tissue-based organ-on-a-chip technology replicating human tissue conditions.

Draper’s MOUTH model

In collaboration with Colgate-Palmolive, organ-on-a-chip developer Draper has unveiled a gum tissue model that can sustain gum tissue viability for up to 28 days. The timeline far exceeded that of previous models. The research was featured in Communications Biology, an imprint of Nature.

Else Vedula, a senior researcher at Draper, described the gum tissue model as a significant improvement over conventional models, given its ability to mimic in vivo conditions. The platform opens new horizons for testing the efficacy of treatments for oral diseases, according to Vedula. “The MOUTH model contains 96 microtissues on one plate with a month-long culture window, enabling many conditions to be evaluated while studying tissue response to products and therapies,” she explained.

The MOUTH model’s ability to offer real-time sensing provides high-resolution, non-invasive data on gingival function. This feature could potentially facilitate drug screening.

Contextualizing organ-on-a-chip models

Organ-on-a-chip technologies are microphysiological systems that have found use in biomedical research in recent years. These models uniquely mimic dynamic experimental conditions, providing a close approximation to in vivo conditions.

A study in the Journal of Dental Research, not directly related to the Draper research, noted that they offer a range of advantages for gingival research. Notably, they offer a smaller-scale culture environment, thus facilitating dynamic experimental conditions that closely mimic in vivo structures. Furthermore, these models have found varied applications in dental, oral and craniofacial (DOC) research, underscoring their versatility.

Draper MOUTH model

Another shot of the Draper MOUTH model

A study in Advanced Science, not directly related to the Draper research, underscored the potential of experimental tissue models that replicate conditions found in human oral gingival tissue. In addition, their model could support the human subgingival plaque microbiome and microbial diversity for up to 24 hours, which, although promising, pales in comparison to the 28-day viability of the MOUTH model.

Exploring the MOUTH gum tissue model

Oral health is integral to overall health, but accurately modeling the human oral environment in vitro has been challenging. Traditional two-dimensional cell cultivation techniques struggle to replicate the intricate conditions of the human mouth. That’s where organ-on-a-chip technologies like the MOUTH model come in. “The main purpose of the MOUTH model is to provide an improved testing platform to develop oral care products,” Vedula explained. “Colgate-Palmolive does not work with animal models, and other lab-grown tissue models are either low throughput, expensive or do not replicate gum tissue structure and function.”

Future horizons: The potential of the gum tissue model and beyond

While the development of gingival models marks a promising milestone, challenges regarding the lack of standardization in their development and application remain. However, Vedula remains optimistic, highlighting, “The extended culture duration of at least 28 days supports multi-week experiments on viable gum tissue. This is significant for R&D efforts because it enables flexibility in the types of testing done on gum tissue.”

Such flexibility suggests the potential of organs-on-a-chip as viable alternatives to animal testing and as enablers for more personalized medicine approaches. Recent investments from organizations such as Pfizer, Bristol Myers Squibb, and NIH into Draper’s organ-chips, along with their diverse applications from drug toxicity screening to studying cancer metastasis, underscore the promising future of this technology.

Draper’s organ-chip technology has piqued the interest of NASA. A multi-agency team led by the space agency has enlisted Draper’s vascular-system-on-a-chip for a long-duration experiment aiming to understand the impacts of space travel on the human body, replicating conditions aboard the International Space Station.

In 2022, Draper announced that one of its models could predict the response of COVID-19 antivirals.

Within the context of advanced biomedical research, the long-lasting capabilities of organ-on-a-chip models grant unprecedented opportunities for sustained biological exploration. “The extended culture window of 28 days allows for complex, multi-week experiments,” Vedula said.