Pump-prime Projects

Next-Generation Material for high-volume production of Sustainable, Biocompatible Organ-On-Chip devices

Status: Completed
Principal Investigator:
  • Virginia Pensabene
    University of Leeds
  • Eugenio Martinelli
    University of Rome Tor Vergata
  • Holger Becker
    Microfluidic ChipShop GmbH
  • Maciej Skolimowski
    Micronit Microtechnologies BV
Researcher co-investigators:
  • Sandro Meucci
    Micronit Microtechnologies BV
  • Francesco Colucci
    University of Leeds
  • Alfredo Ongaro
    Heriot-Watt University
Award round: 1
Start date: 01-04-2019
End date: 31-10-2019
Contract amount: £10,627
PDFInitial project report


An Organ on a chip (OOC) device is a powerful and emerging tool that hosts the living tissues constituting an organ and enables scientists, researchers and clinicians to study organs without using expensive, complex, and ethically-questionable animal models.

Since the emergence of the first OOC device in 2007, complex functionalities have been added to a simple structure, leading to the so-called body-on-a-chip field. The translation from research to the market has happened relatively fast. To date, at least 28 companies are proposing body and tissue on-a chip devices. The material of choice in most commercial organ-on-a-chip platform is an elastomer (PDMS, a type of silicone) commonly used in R&D. Although this material is biocompatible, transparent, flexible, and relatively easy to manufacture at small scale, a variety of issues have been encountered by consumers while using it, including deformation, unwanted evaporation, release of unwanted additives, leading to unpredictable results. This, and the fact that this elastomer moulding is difficult to automate, are the biggest drawbacks of PDMS as a substrate material for OOC application.

Our vision is to develop the use of Polylactic acid (PLA), a biocompatible thermoplastic material from renewable resources for the field of organ-on-chip. We have recently proposed PLA as new substrate material for the production of environmentally sustainable, single-use, devices for medical research, which circumvent the traditional problems encountered with the elastomer PDMS. We have optimised PLA workability in conjunction with a layered laser-based prototyping technique and demonstrated optimal transparency and surface roughness suitable for most basic biological applications. We are now embarking on a new phase of research to demonstrate the utility of these PLA microdevices in the field of Organ-On-A-Chip.

Key Outputs

BBC Scotland (2019) Plant-based plastic chip used for medicine testing: www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-50345522

Polylactic is a Sustainable, Low Absorption, Low Autofluorescence Alternative to Other Plastics for Microfluidic and Organ-on-Chip Applications; Analytical Chemistry, 2020, Kersaudy-Kerhoas, M et al.

Major manufacturer now showcasing bio-based polymer materials

Project PhD student now at ICFO, Barcelona

Presented preliminary data: BioMedEng19 in London, Sept 2019