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In Technology Review: Cell on a Chip, Lauren Gravitz reports that researchers at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, NY, have created the first artificial cellular organelle. This “cell on a chip” will help researchers understand how our bodies produce the widely-used blood thinner heparin.
This is a critical step. After its discovery nearly a century ago, heparin remains almost impossible to create in a laboratory, and so is still made from pig intestines – a procedure susceptible to sometimes lethal contamination.
The central mystery is the process by which a cellular organelle called the Golgi apparatus, converts proteins to sugar-studded glycoproteins. To emulate the Golgi’s workings, researchers created their very own artificial cell organelle – a small microfluidics chip – that acts as a precise, controllable, (eventually) automated Golgi analogue.
Funding and serendipity aligned, bioengineered heparin may enter clinical trials within five years.
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