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.

Fake cell: This microfluidics chip can replicate the activity of one of the eukaryotic cell’s most important, yet least understood, organelles–the Golgi apparatus. Researchers hope that it can help them understand how to create synthetic versions of important drugs such as heparin. Credit: Courtesy JACS

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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2 Responses to Artificial Life: Cell on a Chip

  1. Ron says:

    I imagine it will be a lot more than five years. Clinical trials take longer than that, independent of the need for further development.

    • Stuart Mason Dambrot Stuart Mason Dambrot says:

      You seemed to have missed something. Note that I wrote: “Funding and serendipity aligned, bioengineered heparin may enter clinical trials within five years.” (emphasis added)

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