The process of developing new medications is long and arduous. Testing with animals takes a considerable amount of time and resources, and there’s still no guarantee that what works in a mouse will work in a human. Lab-on-a-chip technology expedites the process by mimicking biological processes, with only a fraction of the resources needed in traditional approaches. This led to the development of various organs-on-a-chip. The same approach has now been applied to developing embryos. A new paper published in Science China Technological Sciences by researchers from Tsinghua University in Beijing describes new egg-on-a-chip technology that uses a soft, transparent eggshell to get unprecedented access to developing embryos by offering more life-supporting functions than have been available in previous on-a-chip devices.
Previously, developmental biologists who wished to see developing eggs relied on ‘windowing’ the shell. Essentially, a portion of the eggshell is very carefully cut out, allowing scientists to look inside. It is taped back into place, which protects the developing embryo, and allows for access later in development. Not only does this process run the risk of damaging or potentially contaminating the embryo, but it gives a very narrow view of the action. Attempting to culture embryos in other ways has been unsuccessful, as they have been unable to keep the embryo alive.
This new system offers a considerable advantage over older methods. The eggshell is made out of a biomaterial called PDMS (polydimethylsiloxane), which is transparent and has elastic properties. The 360-degree transparency of the shell will not only allow researchers to see into the eggs, but will also allow in vivo fluorescent imaging, which provides a considerable amount of information about genetic function. Additionally, it will be much easier to introduce other materials into the embryo during development.
Just as with other lab-on-a-chip technology, this egg-on-a-chip allows for experimentation with far fewer resources, making research much more efficient. The researchers have been conducting experiments with these eggshells for two years, and have been able to sustain the avian embryos for 17.5 days; fairly close to the total 21 day gestation.
“With both high optical transparency and engineering subtlety fully integrated together, the present method not only provides an ideal transparent imaging platform for studying functional embryo development including life mystery, but also promises a future strategy for “lab-on-an-egg” technology which may be important in a wide variety of either fundamental or practical areas,” the authors write in the paper.
Check out the view provided by the transparent eggshell right here: