Women In Innovation: Developing 'Organs-On-Chips'

At CN Bio our aim is to provide drug companies with better tools to speed up the process of finding and testing medicines. We're developing human "Organs-on-Chips", miniature devices which replicate organ function in a laboratory.

I grew up in the UK and trained as a chemist. After degrees at the University of Bristol and Massachusetts Institute of Technology I did a doctorate in chemistry at Oxford.

At CN Bio our aim is to provide drug companies with better tools to speed up the process of finding and testing medicines. We're developing human "Organs-on-Chips", miniature devices which replicate organ function in a laboratory. These have already been used in the race to discover medicines to treat viral infections and lung disease. For researchers, they offer the ability predict with real precision how humans might respond to a new drug. Eliminating animal testing from the discovery process is a challenging but realistic goal of our work.

So how did a chemist come to be running a company making bio-engineered human organs?

In terms of early inspiration, I had a fantastic chemistry teacher at school. Later I spent a year working at DuPont's Central Research Facility in Wilmington, Delaware. It was an amazing and eye-opening experience. An opportunity to learn that successful science is about much more than what goes on in a lab.

My experience at MIT was also influential. MIT is full of talented scientists and engineers and has a vibrant entrepreneurial culture which is extremely infectious.

My background as a chemist means that I like precision. However, drug development is not nearly as logical as we'd like. Profound uncertainty about the likely success of drug programs can persist into late stage clinical trials - by which time millions of pounds will have already been spent. At CN Bio we were determined to find a better way, a way of modelling how a drug would work on human cells which could be safely tested in a laboratory setting.

To tackle this challenge CN Bio teamed up with one of the world's leading biological engineers, Professor Linda Griffith at MIT. She's an expert at building devices which allow you to keep human cells alive and functioning - a difficult challenge, but something that she's solved and we're using in our Organ-on-a-Chip products.

Innovate UK funding has been fantastic in helping us explore new opportunities for our technologies. For example, we recently built a model of a liver disease which is commonly associated with diabetes. Lots of pharma companies are interested in working with us to explore new treatments for the liver injury patients sustain from this illness. Through this program we were able to raise matched funding from investors, and bring new jobs and skills into our company.

My school motto was Sperate Parati 'go forward with preparation'. Great advice for any entrepreneur or innovator, male or female. My version of this is 'plan carefully... and then go for it!'

Emma & Innovate UK:

Emma has just been honoured as one of the 15 winners of Innovate UK's 2016 Women in Innovation awards, a series of awards dedicated to addressing the disproportionately low numbers of women entrepreneurs in the UK. Here, over a series of 15 posts we'll meet the inspiring innovators and entrepreneurs that Innovate UK is celebrating, each of whom will receive a tailored business support package, expert business mentor and £50,000 to help them reach their full potential.

Dr. Ruth McKernan CBE and Chief Executive of Innovate UK says: 'From fully autonomous drone software to affordable solar power technology and even a digital education portal which engages school children with the molecular world, the calibre of ideas is an eye-opening view into the talent and vision of the UK's female entrepreneurs. It is very clear that harnessing the talent of women entrepreneurs could significantly enhance UK economic growth. I am delighted that we are taking action; supporting and funding female entrepreneurs to help them succeed and inspire other women to come forward, apply for funding and turn their ideas into successful business.'

If you have an innovation or business idea and are looking for support then visit www.innovateuk.gov.uk for further information - go for it!

You can follow Innovate UK on Twitter at @innovateuk or subscribe to their YouTube channel at www.youtube.com/InnovateUK.

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