RMIT researchers are pioneering unique lab-on-a-chip technologies that are assisting in the discovery of the cause of facial defects in rare genetic disorders.
Associate Professor Donald Wlodkowic and his team at RMIT developed special miniaturised laboratory devices commonly referred to as Lab-on-a-Chip (LOC).
The LOCs provided the critical technology to permit the discovery that faulty bioelectric signalling is responsible for facial defects caused by a rare genetic disorder, Anderson-Tawil Syndrome (ATS).
The collaboration with the Department of Biology, School of Arts and Sciences, Tufts University, and the Department of Mechanical Engineering, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), enabled researchers to alter normal bioelectric signalling during the development of transgenic embryo models.
This allowed them to demonstrate the cause of the craniofacial abnormalities associated with ATS and Fetal-Alcohol Syndrome.
The inspiring breakthrough could lead to preventative measures and treatments for a range of disorders, from birth defects to cancers.
"Miniaturised Lab-on-a-Chip technologies represent a revolutionary and futuristic direction for biomedical sciences," Wlodkowic said.
"They are poised to change how research in drug discovery and physiology is performed."
The LOCs enable tadpoles to develop, allow manipulation and monitoring of the cells and at the same time produce time-resolved microscopic imaging to demonstrate the abnormalities to the skull and face.
"Using transgenic fish and frog embryo models provides an excellent research entity, allowing the ability to mimic molecular foundations of human diseases in the developing embryos," Wlodkowic said.
"This ensures the accuracy of the results and enables the opportunity to 'fish' for new drugs.
"These research models bridge the existing gap between the cell-based in vitro assays that have low physiological relevance and the ethically controversial in vivo tests on rodents and other mammals, becoming new models for drug discovery in the process."
The chip-based labs are fabricated using a state-of-the-art laser micro milling system and the use of specific polymers allows the devices to be biocompatible and inexpensive.
The team at RMIT in the School of Science have pioneered several innovative Lab-on-a-Chip technologies for small model organism research, which are suitable for many pioneering applications in drug discovery, predictive toxicology and even environmental monitoring such as water quality testing.
"We are bioengineers and inventors, therefore we developed a technological solution to ease existing problems, automate processes and develop new capabilities for biomedical discovery," Wlodkowic said.
This team is leading innovation and collaborating with many leading biomedical and toxicology laboratories on a world scene.
The discovery was published in the Journal of Physiology.
Other pioneering Lab-on-a-Chip technologies for small model organism research developed by Associate Professor Donald Wlodkowic’s group appear in Sensors and Actuators B: Chemical (April 2016), Environmental Science & Technology (December 2015), Proceedings of SPIE - International Society for Optics and Photonics (December 2015), Biomicrofluidics (July 2015).
Story: Lesley Gordon