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Schulich's 'organ-on-a-chip' researcher wins prestigious award

Amir Sanati Nezhad receives Douglas R. Colton Medal for developing technology to speed up drug testing for brain diseases
September 30, 2015
Amir Sanati Nezhad, assistant professor of mechanical and manufacturing engineering at Schulich, has been awarded the Douglas R. Colton Medal for Research Excellence. Photo by Riley Brandt, University of Calgary

Amir Sanati Nezhad, assistant professor of mechanical and manufacturing engineering at Schulich, has been awarded the Douglas R. Colton Medal for Research Excellence. Photo by Riley Brandt, University of Calgary

Each year, CMC Microsystems awards the Douglas R. Colton Medal for Research Excellence to a Canadian researcher for developing new understanding and novel developments in microsystems and related technologies.

Each year, CMC Microsystems awards the Douglas R. Colton Medal for Research Excellence to a Canadian researcher for developing new understanding and novel developments in microsystems and related technologies.

Amir Sanati Nezhad, a researcher developing technology that could revolutionize testing pharmaceuticals for neurodegenerative brain diseases, has been awarded the Douglas R. Colton Medal for Research Excellence.

Sanati Nezhad, assistant professor of mechanical and manufacturing engineering in the Schulich School of Engineering, is developing organ-on-a-chip platforms by using tissue engineering, microfabrication and  microfluidics — a technology for miniaturizing environments.

“It’s really a platform use for drug discovery,” he says. “We make tissues inside a chip to mimic their function in the body. You have control over how the cells behave and then you can test them with different drugs and see how the tissue is responding.”

Chip will eventually allow researchers to test effectiveness of pharmaceuticals

Using a chip to test pharmaceuticals could dramatically reduce costs and speed up approving drugs — a process that can take up to 10 years and includes testing on single cells, then animals and finally humans.

The organ-on-a-chip will eventually allow researchers to see the effects of a drug on a single organ, before layering in other systems, says Sanati Nezhad, a member of the Centre for Bioengineering Research and Education and principal investigator, BioMEMS and Bioinspired Microfluidic Laboratory.

“If you want to test one drug, let’s say on the liver of an animal, the liver will be interconnected with all other organs in the body so it’s really difficult,” he says. “But here we can have one organ in the chip and you can do systematic analysis and test drugs only on liver tissue and not have cross-talking with all the other organs.”

Next phase for research is to mimic brain cells on the chip

In his postgraduate work at Harvard, Sanati Nezhad worked with organs such as the heart and liver. Now he is working with biologists, physicians and other members of the biomedical engineering program and Hotchkiss Brain Institute to mimic brain cells on the chip.

“Our focus is now mainly on the brain and how neurodegenerative diseases are related to different organs,” he says. “That’s the main goal of our lab, to see how the brain is interconnected with the liver, skin and vascular system and see how they cross-talk to each other.”

Every year, CMC Microsystems awards the Douglas R. Colton Medal for Research Excellence to a Canadian researcher who is developing “new understanding and novel developments in microsystems and related technologies.” 

Sanati Nezhad is thrilled to receive the unexpected honour.

The University of Calgary is a global leader in Engineering Solutions for Health: Biomedical Engineering, producing unprecedented insights into complex, global health care challenges. Using engineering approaches to advance knowledge and solve problems in biology, medicine and health care, researchers from engineering, medicine, kinesiology, veterinary medicine, science and nursing are at the forefront of advancing diagnostics, neurosurgery, joint repair, and stem cell production.