Microfluidic devices that mimic physiological processes are becoming valuable tools for the development of drugs. Materials such as glass, silicon, and polymers are etched with connected microchannels and seeded with cells. These chips serve as miniature labs of sorts for investigating in vitro how the body will respond to various drug candidates. (See the article on pp. 52–58 for more on lab-on-a-chip devices.)
Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have developed a microfluidic device that mimics the neuromuscular junction (NMJ), i.e., a chemical synapse formed between a motor neuron and a muscle fiber. The chip could be useful in developing drugs for debilitating neuro-degenerative disorders that involve the loss of NMJ function, such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).
“The neuromuscular junction is involved in a lot of very incapacitating, sometimes brutal and fatal, disorders,” says Sebastien Uzel, a graduate student of mechanical engineering at MIT. “The hope is that being able to form neuromuscular junctions in vitro will help us understand how certain diseases function.”
Other systems have been developed to simulate the NMJ in...
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