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National Geographic Features Cedars-Sinai’s Stem-Cell Science

Special January Edition on "The Future of Medicine" Highlights Innovative Organs-on-Chips Research and Technology

A special edition of National Geographic on "The Future of Medicine" highlights the innovative stem-cell science of Cedars-Sinai, showing how investigators are seeking to use stem cells and Organ-Chips to tailor personalized treatments for individual patients.

The magazine devotes its cover photo to research at Cedars-Sinai, conducted in collaboration with Emulate, Inc. of Boston. Scientists can place copies of patients' own cells—created from their stem cells—inside transparent chips that are the size of AA batteries. Drugs then can be tested on the cells, which bear each patient's unique genetic footprint.

Seems like science fiction, right?" Clive Svendsen, PhD, says in the National Geographic story, "Every Body Is Unique." He adds: "Not long ago, it was science fiction."

Using this technique, Cedars-Sinai has so far created functioning tissues of intestinal linings and spinal cords inside the chips, and more tissues are planned.

Parkinson's disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), ovarian cancer and inflammatory bowel disease are among the disorders being studied on the chip.

A Behind-the-Scenes Look at Innovative Research Featured in National Geographic

The pioneering Patient-on-a-Chip program is a collaboration between the Cedars-Sinai Board of Governors Regenerative Medicine Institute, directed by Svendsen, and Emulate.

Emulate develops the chips used for this program. The chips re-create the microenvironment that cells require to exhibit an unprecedented level of biological function and to behave like they do in the human body. Cedars-Sinai makes the cells that go into the chips, using induced pluripotent stem calls, or iPSCs. These stem cells, created by reprogramming an adult's skin or blood cells into an embryonic state, can be made into cells of any organ.

The cover of National Geographic features a composite photo of an Organ-Chip against a laboratory glove and a highly magnified image of functioning spinal cord tissue inside the chip. Samuel Sances, PhD, a postdoctoral fellow in Svendsen's laboratory, developed the chip for his research and shot the background image on the lab's microscope.

"Working with the journal's team was actually a lot of fun," Sances said. "This is a very new technology— my first chance to 'open up the hood' and let someone inside. It was really great to get the concept across to a wider audience." Sances is the first author of a study, published in March in Stem Cell Reports, that used an Organ-Chip to make discoveries about how spinal motor neurons may develop. His colleague Robert Barrett, PhD, assistant professor of Medicine at Cedars-Sinai, this year announced his lab's creation of an intestinal chip in Cellular and Molecular Gastroenterology and Hepatology.

It will be a few years before Patient-on-a-Chip is ready for use in actual patients, according to Svendsen, professor of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at Cedars-Sinai. But he sees that day coming. "I think we're entering a new era of medicine—precision medicine," he said. "In the future, you'll have your iPSC line made, generate the cell type in your body that is sick and put it on a chip to understand more about how to treat your disease."

To bring that day closer, Cedars-Sinai in 2016 launched Cedars-Sinai Precision Health with the goal of driving the development of the newest technology and best research, coupled with the finest clinical practice, to rapidly enable a new era of personalized health. Patient-on-a-Chip is an important part of that effort.

"Cedars-Sinai Precision Health and its Patient-on-a-Chip initiative with Emulate are leading medicine forward into the future at an ever-accelerating pace," said Shlomo Melmed, MD, executive vice president of Academic Affairs and dean of the Cedars-Sinai medical faculty. "We are excited that National Geographic is bringing news of our cutting-edge research discovery programs to its vast, worldwide readership."

The January issue of National Geographic is now on sale.

Funding: Research reported in this news release was supported by the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (award number 1-UG3-NS-105703-01) and the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (award number R56DK106202-01) of the National Institutes of Health, the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, the Cedars-Sinai Board of Governors Regenerative Medicine Institute, the Cedars-Sinai F. Widjaja Foundation Inflammatory Bowel and Immunobiology Research Institute, the ALS Association and the Joseph Drown Foundation.

Disclosure: Cedars-Sinai owns a minority stock interest in Emulate Inc. An officer of Cedars-Sinai serves on Emulate's board of directors. Emulate provides no financial support for this research.