A common pain point among lab researchers is an inability to accurately test a drug, protein or antibody reaction in human cells due to the way cells grow in the lab — flat and sometimes unable to oxygenate well.
Founded in 2008 after being spun off of a Georgia Tech research patent, Lena Biosciences has expanded its biotech solutions for researchers with three different products that allow cells to grow in a 3D shape and migrate in natural patterns, to obtain more accurate results prior to live human testing.
In other words, the Lena team has essentially created an organ-on-a-chip.
“There have been many changes to the original patent technology to make it more user friendly so that it would fit into existing workflow, life sciences and drug testing,” says CEO Jelena Vukasinovic.
The product evolved from a microscope device to a standard cell culture disposable that can be used with standard equipment and will increase productivity and output, thanks to the cell’s improved environment. The now-named ‘PerfusionPal’ uses a proprietary liquid to improve oxygenation of the cells and multiple plates for better metabolism. The process allows cells to grow unrestricted, in three dimensions, for a longer period of time.
“With this, we’re able to sustain the tissue for quite some time to do basic science research, cancer research, applied science research and drug testing, especially if you want it to repeat the drug dose and see what happens,” says Vukasinovic. “That’s really important because when you run your study, you want to be able to run several samples in parallel, not just for statistical purposes, but sometimes you want to ask yourself different questions.”
With their product ‘SeedEZ’, Lena Bio provides a scaffold structure made out of glass microfibers to allow cells to grow in their natural 3D shape. The cells grow within the scaffold by hugging each fiber to simulate living tissues, versus growing them on a flat surface. “This translates to much better outcomes that are more predictive of what you would expect to happen to a cell in a human body,” says Vukasinovic.
To complement the SeedEZ framework, the ATDC Accelerate startup wanted “to not only allow the cells to be able to live in three dimensions the way they do in a human body, but to migrate the way they do it in a human body.”
“Cells have certain cues and if you give them something that we call chemo attractant, something that they are attracted to, they’re going to move towards that. And if we do this in an in vitro setting, which is in a dish, then we can simulate what is going to happen in a human body,” she says.
With ‘GradientEZ’, researchers can simulate the cell mobility and migration in 3D to see how certain proteins and drugs would predictably react in the human body and improve any shortfalls prior to testing the drug in humans. The trifecta of these products creates the ‘organ-on-a-chip.’
The biotech startup follows a product-based revenue model by selling directly through their website to researchers and laboratories and through several biotech distributors. With the seal of approval from both the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation, the team has been able to acquire several non-dilutive grants, including an active phase 2 NIH grant, to fund R&D and sales.
Vukasinovic attributes the resources at ATDC and the Georgia Tech community to a lot of their success, including access to talent. “We all have similar headaches and [the community] helps solve them. Since we were here at Georgia Tech, we can attract bright, young people. We love our interns from the university.” She shares that depending on growth, they may go after further funding in the next year to continue scaling their products.