Researchers developed a microchip imaging platform to image-analyze thousands of roundworms simultaneously, according to the Cockrell School of Engineering at the University of Texas at Austin. This is the 1st large-scale, in vivo drug discovery platform using a whole animal model, the school reported.
The study, published in Nature Communications, detailed a flexible, cellphone-sized chip with 96 wells used to immobilize drug-treated roundworms, commonly referred to as C. elegans. The chip can be used by researchers to analyze the efficacy of drugs on 3,600 live worms, at the cost of an in vitro, cell-based platform.
C. elegans are the 1st multicellular organisms to have a completely sequenced genome, the school reported. Because about 1/3 of C. elegans’ genes are the same as disease-causing genes in humans, the creatures serve as an effective model to evaluate the efficacy of drugs. The researchers at the University of Texas at Austin specifically focused on drugs that are indicated for neurodegenerative diseases, since the roundworms have full nervous systems and a diverse group of neurons.
“The C. elegans are thousands of times bigger than cells, so now that we have developed a way to capture and immobilize so many of them so quickly, we can determine much more information about the efficacy of drugs in a whole organism rather than the limited information that is derived when we used isolated individual cells,” lead researcher Adela Ben-Yakar said in prepared remarks.
They analyzed 1,000 drugs for treating protein aggregation, a characteristic of neurodegenerative diseases such as Huntington’s disease. “Four of the drugs we tested were effective at treating a protein aggregation model that is directly related to Huntington’s, and one of these drugs became even more effective at increased doses without causing toxicity,” Ben-Yakar said.
Ben-Yakar’s start-up company, Newormics, is developing a commercial product from the imaging prototype, according to the university.