With Lorna Ewart this year’s International MicroNanoConference has an appealing name on the ‘playlist’. London based Ewart leads the Microphysiological Centre of Excellence, Innovative Medicines’ at the famous multinational pharmaceutical company Astra Zenica. She fits the profile of the conference perfectly; the industrial scientists.

Where the academic world is talking about ‘organs-on-chip’, Ewart uses the term MPS, Micro-Physiological Systems, addressing the same technology. In pharmaceutical industry at this moment in time it is mainly a system to generate information. It shows to be an alternative to animal testing. Furthermore it turns out to be a method to get available the big data you cannot harvest from the traditional clinical tests on such a personalized level, at least not within the framework of what could be justified financially.
There is the connection. Organ on chip now links with big data and big pharma.

Why did Lorna Ewart decide to join the iMNC conference on December 12 and 13 in Amsterdam? “I am passionate about the subject and want to contribute to building momentum for it” she says. It sounds like a scientist. At the same time highly pragmatic, “I want to see what I can learn from the audience, there where two disciplines come together”. Crossovers inspire and show new directions. “And I hope to become aware of new opportunities for future collaborations”. Ewart hints towards new research programs, whether or not based on European grants.

EU funding, that’s a tricky point. How will this evolve in the Brexit framework? Of course Lorna Ewart is not in the position to say anything on the issue. “But my general feeling is that these kind of developments and discussions frustrate the R&D process as they take away focus and fun from doing science”.

What remains is the promising perspective rising from the fact Astra Zenica is already applying organs-on-chip technology for testing. Most of the experiences are still ‘unpublished’. “It is mainly about safety assessment in the domain of drugs delivery” Lorna Ewart points out. The company also uses the technology to develop “a framework to help scientists defining key element in drugs discovery”. It is not only about the complexity of bringing together biology and chip technology. But also of both biosensors and big data. “We wish to reduce this complexity to the simplest unit and build systems in a logical way so that they help our scientists understand the response of human cells”.

Big pharma and big data, it really is a small world, thanks to the MicroNano technology.