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In vitro models for Covid-19 research

Predictive in vitro models and related organ-on-a-chip systems have great potential to support the international effort to develop new vaccines and other treatments for Covid-19 and to better understand this disease.

Queen Mary has established a new Organs-on-Chips Centre with the company Emulate Inc. providing access to state of the art organ chip platform technology and validated organ models. These models include the Alveolus Lung-Chip and an Airway Lung-Chip which can be used to investigate the mechanisms of viral entry and help to test new drugs that are being proposed to block this. In addition, with increasing  interest in repositioning, repurposing and acceleration of drugs to treat Covid-19, Emulate's validated Liver-Chip, Proximal Tubule Kidney-Chip and Intestine-Chip could all provide early safety data, increasing confidence in Phase I testing. 

The following are some of the researchers at Queen Mary University of London and clinicians at Barts and the Royal London NHS Trust, who have formed a special multidisciplinary interest group focused on using and developing sophisticated in vitro models for Covid-19 research:

  • Prof Martin Knight
    Director of the Queen Mary & Emulate Organs-on-chips Centre. Expertise in mechanobiology primarily in musculoskeletal tissue, but also including a previous study of the effect of mechanical ventilation on inflammatory signaling in lung epithelial cells [Harris et al 2019].
  • Dr Paul Pfeffer
    Consultant Respiratory Physician at Barts Health NHS Trust and Hon Sen Lecturer, QMUL. Leads the regional severe asthma service and a member of the Trust Covid-19 Clinical Guidelines Committee. His research interest is in the capacity of environmental factors such as vitamin D, air pollution and airways infections to subvert homeostatic and protective adaptive immune responses in the lung resulting in airway pathology. 
  • Dr Adrian Biddle
    Long standing expertise in in vitro models including the development of vascularised microfluidic chips which could be relevant for covid-19 research, given the effect of covid on the pulmonary vasculature.
  • Dr John Connelly
    Leads the CREATE Lab, which has facilities for 3D bioprinting and microfabrication of fluidic devices suitable for predictive in vitro models.
  • Prof Aine McKnight
    Virologist with an interest in the role of neutralising in pathogenesis and vaccines. Further interest are in the tropism and molecular details of viral replication
  • Dr Nara Orban
    Consultant ENT surgeon with a large tertiary paediatric and adult practice. I focus on airway disease, including the nose as well as larynx, trachea and bronchi. My basic research background is in immunology of the upper airway, particularly remodelling in the context of allergy.
  • Dr Emma Chambers
    Immunologist and specialist in monocyte and T cell biology and the effect that age on the phenotype and function of these cells (immunosenescence).
  • Dr Angray Kamg
    Leading development of recombinant proteins called GloBodies for use in diagnosing Covid-19 . 
  • Prof Yang Hao
    Faculty Dean for Research (Science & Engineering) with interest in developing rapid home test kits for Covid-19. Currently working on how to transform smart phone cameras into biomedical sensors with specialised add-ons.
  • Prof Hazel Screen
    Director of the UK Organ-on-a-chip Technologies Network and co-director of the Queen Mary & Emulate Organs-on-chips Centre.
  • Dr Thomas Iskratsch
    Division of Bioengineering, Deputy for Research & Industrial Engagement