Building bespoke artificial cells and tissues on a chip for drug discovery

Human cells are fascinating and complex: they reproduce, break down food to create energy and communicate with each other. The ‘skin’ of the cell, the cell membrane, plays a crucial role in choreographing interactions between a cell and the outside environment, for example by allowing or prohibiting the access of drugs from the cell exterior to the cell interior.

I design and build lab-on-a-chip devices, which are plastic chips the size of a postage stamp inside of which I can manipulate tiny amounts of liquids. I use these lab-on-a-chip devices to create artificial cells to be able to study how the cell membrane regulates access to the cell interior. Human cell membranes have lots of different components that are used to transport drugs into and out of the cell.

Since the cell membrane is complex, we do not always know exactly which component is interacting with the drug molecule, and what effect it has. The cost of developing a new drug is around 2.6 billion USD and a significant proportion of drug candidates fail because we cannot predict how they interact with cells.

My research will help design drugs that can interact with cells more efficiently, so that they can get inside the cell in order to work properly.