PreGenerate - a bio chip instead of animal testing

Februar 27, 2024|TA

You developed an “organ-on-a-chip-model” – how does it work? 

Spun out of the TUWien and Vetmeduni Wien, our technology is a simple way to look at a complicated disease. We take cartilage cells and simulate their native environment within our chip so that the cells behave in a more lifelike way. This allows us to measure how the cells respond to inflammation and different medications in a more clinically relevant way. The simple features of the chip, like the intermittent supply of liquid nutrients, mimic some of the conditions natural to cartilage such as lack of blood supply and varying stresses the tissue experiences.

Why arthritis?

Arthritis is a much more prevalent and insidious disease than we often acknowledge, affecting about 325 million people worldwide and accounting for a massive socioeconomic burden. For example, in the US alone, arthritis cost over $300 billion in direct health care costs and lost job wages in 2013. 

What’s worse, though, is the forecasted increase in arthritis patients by 100% in the next 20 years – most new patients are under the age of 64! Generally, women may be more affected and science is revealing some important relationships between arthritis and fatal diseases including diabetes, heart disease, clinical depression and others. The most discouraging statistic here, however, remains the unmet need: despite more than 80 years of research, there is still no cure for arthritis and only about one third of patients respond to state of the art treatment.

What are the advantages of this method?

There are many advantages. First, cartilage cells don't behave as they would in vivo unless they have a 3D environment similar to their native situation and function. Thus, many traditional models aren't as effective at recreating what happens in a joint as scientists hoped. Furthermore, animal models suffer from high variability from animal to animal, as well as unacceptably high failure rates when translated to use in humans. 

One of the difficulties in treating arthritis is being able to assess how individuals respond to the disease, and to predict who might benefit most from which treatment. We aim to account for exactly this lack of data - at a personal level. 

A team of scientists standing on steps inside an office

Are there already results from your research?

We do have some early results, based on our proof of concept work in horses and more recently with human samples. Horses, and other pet species, also suffer from naturally occurring arthritis. As a senior surgeon at the Vetmeduni Wien Pferdechirurgie (equine surgery), I was fortunate to research and develop this technology as my PhD. I knew then how challenged we veterinarians were by this progressive disease, but it wasn't until I injured my own knee that I learned just how significant a problem arthritis remains in human medicine, and the chance that this technology has to positively impact so many lives around the world, both human and animal.

What makes your chip different compared to other chips on the market? 

Our chip ''Optimate OA'' recreates the physiological conditions that promote cartilage-like structures using organ-on-a-chip technology. Compared to other microfluidic chips, our chip is a standalone device which doesn't need any special external device. It is formatted like a standard 96 well plate which makes it compatible with already standard laboratory equipment such as robots, microscopes, and plate readers. 

 Could you explain how the process works? 

At PreGenerate, we receive a patient biopsy sample from the clinician. We extract the cells from it and grow them in our patented chip '' Optimate OA''. We test different medications on the sample in our chip and then we extract the RNA from the sample and perform gene analysis on them using qPCR. 

The qPCR data is analysed using our own analysis tool, with which we can see which arthritis genes are turned up or down with different medications; for example, if inflammatory markers are increasing with a certain treatment or regenerative or degenerative markers are going up or down. Those reports are then sent to the clinicians who can choose a more personalized treatment option for the patient.  

Scientific ecquipment and laptop

Where is PreGenerate at currently?

PreGenerate is happily located in the Startup Labs at the Vienna Bio Center, and we've just received additional funding from aws – the Austria Wirtschaftsservice. 

What are the next steps?

We have developed some promising new features to further scale our high throughput technology and our next steps are an upcoming clinical trial and IVDR certification for our software. Our team is expanding, so we are also onboarding exciting new members and seeking industry partnerships! 

And what makes you want to stay in Vienna?

Aside from the fact that Vienna offers a fantastic quality of life, especially for founders, many people don't realize that Austria is one of the top five countries globally in number of joint replacements performed each year. We at PreGenerate believe that this is a great place to illustrate the importance of osteoarthritis and highlight the impact our technology can deliver.

How did the Vienna Business Agency support you through your journey?

With the support from the Vienna Business Agency, we were able to move to the Vienna Bio Center, where we were provided with fully equipped labs to develop our product. Aside from that, the several seminars and media outreach organized by the Vienna Business Agency help us reach both customers and investors. 


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