First Functional Stem-Cell Derived Neuromuscular Junction Model Licensed

ORLANDO, FLA – April 25, 2018 -- Hesperos, Inc. has increased its pioneering human-on-a-chip drug testing capabilities by adding a new in vitro, human-human neuromuscular model to its patented multi-organ microfluidic device systems. Abnormal function of the neuromuscular junction is associated with neurodegenerative diseases such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and spinal muscular atrophy, and a human model will be critical in developing and selecting effective drugs to treat these diseases.

The breakthrough technology is described in a recent Biomaterials paper by Hesperos CSO James Hickman from the Hybrid Systems Laboratory at the University of Central Florida, “Stem cell derived phenotypic human neuromuscular junction model for dose response evaluation of therapeutics.” The technology is licensed to Hesperos, and is currently available as a fee-for-service assay.

The BioMEMs construct is the first of its kind. Unlike other tests that examine neuromuscular function in co-cultures or using biomarker activity and protein analysis, Hickman’s model is a functioning platform that recreates human neuronal connections to skeletal muscle. The compartmentalized, serum-free microfluidic device is made with thin silicone membrane with tiny tunnels. Nerve cells (motoneurons) and skeletal muscle cells (myoblasts) cultivated from human stem cells are plated on opposite sides of the membrane, creating a barrier that provides electrical and chemical isolation. 

Over the course of several days, the muscle cells fuse to form muscle fibers (myotubes). The motoneurons project axons (long, slender projections that conduct electrical impulses away from the nerve cell body) through the microtunnels and form neuromuscular junctions with the myotubes. These junctions serve as conduits for communication between the two cell types, similar to what happens in the human body. The result is mini muscles that can be contracted by motoneuron activation or direct electrical stimulation.

Drugs can be applied to the model -- in single doses or in several doses over an extended period of time, mimicking real drug evaluation conditions -- to measure how the muscle system reacts. In the National Institutes of Health funded study, Hickman describes dose response curves his team generated for three drugs -- curare toxin, alpha bungarotoxin, and an approved drug, botulinum toxin (BOTOX®). 

The results closely matched in vivo (live human) data at all four stimulation frequencies tested, suggesting the model provides an extremely accurate replica of live human systems, allowing rapid, realistic, non-invasive drug testing -- without the use of animals. 

Hesperos has been recognized for its innovative alternatives to animal testing, including the international 2015 Lush Prize for Science which was given to the company’s CEO, Michael Shuler, and Hickman. Aside from the ethical considerations of using live animal subjects to test drugs, animal testing is woefully inaccurate. For every 50 drugs that are determined to be safe for animals, only one proves safe in humans, and the FDA approval process for drugs based on animal testing is a long one.

In contrast, the functional read-outs generated by Hickman’s model have been closely correlating to what clinicians are observing in human clinical trials. This could help inform the design of future clinical trials, and accelerate drug development timelines. 

“The model’s sensitivity in quantifying the degree of loss-of-function caused by neuromuscular blocking agents with varying modes of action provides a highly accurate and sensitive screening tool for new drugs,” Hickman says. “It can also allow us to observe the behavior of neuromuscular systems as a disease progresses, and inform treatment decisions based on what patients are experiencing, as they experience it.”

“Future iterations of this system with diseased motoneurons or muscle could also be used to develop drugs to treat other neuromuscular diseases,” adds Hesperos President and CEO Michael Shuler, founding Chair for the Department of Biomedical Engineering at Cornell University. “We’re excited to be able to add this capability to our human-on-a-chip toolkit.” 

Overcoming a Big Barrier: Hesperos CEO awarded for Blood-Brain Barrier Innovation

Getting drugs past the neuroprotective blood-brain barrier (BBB) has been a perplexing problem and formidable challenge for researchers and pharmaceutical companies alike.


Hesperos’s creation of a microfluidic model capable of mimicking in vivo characteristics of the blood-brain barrier for prolonged periods was therefore widely welcomed, and recently earned CEO Michael L. Shuler recognition from the American Chemical Society.


At ACS’s Annual Meeting in New Orleans, Shuler was announced as the recipient of the Biotechnology & Bioengineering Gaden Award, named after Biotechnology & Bioengineering founding editor Elmer Gaden, Jr., in recognition of a high-impact paper reflecting exceptional innovation, creativity and originality.


Shuler, who is also the Samuel B. Eckert Professor of Engineering in the Meing School of Biomedical Engineering and in the Smith School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at Cornell University,

was awarded for his paper “Microfluidic Blood-Brain Barrier Model Provides In Vivo-Like Barrier Properties for Drug Permeability Screening.”

As described in the paper, Shuler’s lab derived brain microvascular endothelial cells from human induced pluripotent stem cells and co-cultured them with rat glial cells on two sides of a porous membrane on a pumpless microfluidic platform for up to 10 days. The “BBB-on-a-chip” was engineered with wall shear stress and trans-endothelial electrical resistance in mind, and was tested for drug permeability using several large molecules and model drugs, including caffeine, cimetidine, and doxorubicin.


“Our BBB-on-a-chip model closely mimics physiological BBB barrier functions and will be a valuable tool for screening of drug candidates,” Shuler wrote.


The technology can now being incorporated into Hesperos’s multi-organ-on-a-chip systems. Visit here to learn more.

Hesperos Multi-Organ System Featured in Science

The challenge: Build microfluidic devices that can keep cells alive in a setting that mimics specific organs or tissues, and incorporate biosensors to measure the cells’ physiology. The goal: Mimic diseases and test drug responses that traditional 2D culture systems and animal models have been unable to predict, filling a critical gap in drug development and potentially lowering the cost of drug development, with increased speed and accuracy.


Several labs have risen to the challenge, creating a variety of organ-on-a-chip systems. Hesperos is pioneering the fully functional multi-organ system, and CEO Mike Shuler was featured recently in Science discussing some of the challenges the company has faced making the revolutionary technology a reality.


“There’s just a lot of things that can go wrong when somebody tries to do this,” admits Shuler, Samuel B. Eckert Professor of Engineering in the Meing School of Biomedical Engineering and in the Smith School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at Cornell University.


For instance, the difference in solubility between oxygen and carbon dioxide in the cells’ medium can cause gas bubbles to accumulate over time, disrupting the system’s tightly controlled fluid flows and causing a problem during extended metabolic testing. Hesperos’s solution? Eliminating the pumps normally used to control microfluidic devices, and using a carefully designed gravity flow system instead.


Shuler also discusses the company’s business model, which involves offering multiorgan models as a service, rather than trying to sell and support them as stand-alone products. Clients so far include several pharmaceutical companies who have tested drugs on systems with four or five interconnected organs, including the liver, the heart, and neuromuscular junctions, as well as artificial skin, gastrointestinal tracts, and models of the blood–brain barrier.


Read the full story here.

Hesperos President Wins 2018 B&B Gaden Award

Hesperos President Dr. Mike Shuler has won the 2018 Biotechnology and Bioengineering Gaden Award! The Gaden Award is named in honor of Elmer L. Gaden, Jr., the founding editor of Biotechnology & Bioengineering, and is given in recognition of a truly outstanding paper published in the journal during the last year.

The paper selected for recognition this year was Microfluidic Blood-Brain Barrier Model Provides In Vivo-Like Barrier Properties for Drug Permeability Screening, found in Volume 114, Issue 1, January 2017.

Hesperos President Wins 2018 BMES Achievement Award

Congratulations to Dr. Shuler for winning the 2018 BMES SMBE Shu Chien Acheivement Award!

The BioMedical Engineering Society (BMES) Cellular and Molecular Bioengineering (CMBE) Shu Chien Achievement Award was established in 2014 through an endowment by members' donations to honor Professor Shu Chien, MD, PhD, past President of the BMES, who is well recognized as one of the foremost pioneers and educators in biomedical engineering world-wide. His vision and leadership to integrate biomedical engineering with cardiovascular physiology and molecular & cell biology have greatly impacted the field ofCellular and Molecular Bioengineering.

This prestigious award is offered each year by the CMBE to recognize an individual who has demonstrated meritorious contributions to the field of cellular and molecular bioengineering.

The award ceremony and reception will be held in Key Largo, FL.


Shuler Highlighted by CNBC as Founder of Organ-on-a-Chip Industry

Hesperos president Michael Shuler first coined the term "animal-on-a-chip" (and now "human-on-a-chip") back in 1990.  Starting as part of his research to define the multidisciplinary field, human-on-a-chip systems are quickly becoming an industry destined drastically reduce pharmaceutical development costs.  

Click here to learn more about the industry and Dr. Shuler's contribution in the article published by CNBC.

Awards Granted for Innovation by SLAS Technology

Congratulations to Dr. James J. Hickman and Dr. Michael L. Shuler on being recognized for their publication in the JALA paper entitled “TEER Measurement Techniques for In Vitro Barrier Model Systems”.

They are to be honored with the 2017 SLAS Technology Readers Choice Award (reflecting popularity among readers throughout 2016) AND the 2017 SLAS Technology Authors Choice Award (reflecting popularity among authors – citations – throughout 2016).

The reception will be held on Feb. 6th, 2017 at the Washington, DC Convention Center.

L’ORÉAL Highlights Success using “ORGAN ON-A-CHIP” Technology

The result of 3-year collaboration between L’Oréal and Hesperos scientists has been published in Nature Scientific Reports: “Multi-organ toxicity demonstration in a functional in vitro system composed of four organs.”

A functional, in vitro system has been developed, composed of human cells from four organs (muscle, heart, nerve and liver) which share a common serum-free media. 
This result brings together several technical achievements: the design of the chip with 4 cell reservoirs, interconnected through a recirculating network for nutrient distribution, allowing cellular communication as in normal human physiology. 

Furthermore, the system is viable for at least 14 days, which allows enough time to validate its response to chemical reference substances. These results match ones previously described in vivo.

"The system operates with functional tissues derived from human cells and is capable of simulating the human metabolism. Those technologies will play a key role in safety evaluation without the use of animals” says Dr James Hickman, co-founder and Chief Scientist at Hesperos.  

“For L’Oréal, this new system is a milestone that will complement another technology we have mastered for years now: skin reconstruction. This new approach of “organ on a chip” will bring huge benefits: increase of cell lifespan, integration of different cell types coming from different organs, better prediction of both safety and efficacy”, says Charbel BOUEZ, Head of Americas, L’Oréal Advanced Research.

Click here to read the full article ... 

Hesperos Among Final 4 for 2016 Cade Prize

Hesperos was selected as one of the Final 4 finalists for the 2016 Cade Museum Prize for their Body-on-a-Chip technology. In vitro human models for drug and chemical testing to reduce the rate of failed human clinical trials and therefore decrease the cost to develop new drugs.

Open only to Florida residents and Florida-based companies, the Cade Museum Prize awards a $50,000 cash prize to the winner along with in-kind incentives.

Read more about the event here.


Hesperos Scientists to Speak at Upcoming Events

Hesperos scientists will be attending and speaking at a number of events over the coming months.  If you would like to learn more, below is the list of conferences and symposiums we will be attending:

·       Pittcon, MAR 6-10, 2016 (Atlanta, GA)                      

o   Pittcon Website                       

·       SoT, March 13-17, 2016 (New Orleans, LA)              

o   Society of Toxicology Website

·       AIMBE, April 2-5, 2016 (Washington, DC)

o   AIMBE Website

·       Stem Cell Summit, April 25-27, 2016 (Boston, MA)   

o   Stem Cell Summit Website

·       Internat. Symposium on ALS, June 9-11, 2016 (Brazil)                                

·       World Preclinical Congress, June 14-17, 2016 (Boston, MA)

o   World Preclinical Congress Website

·       Organ on a Chip World Congress, July 7-8, 2016 (Boston, MA)

o   Organ on a Chip World Congress Website

Drs. Shuler & Hickman of Hesperos Awarded 2015 Lush Prize


Hesperos Scientists Awarded International Prize for Accurate New Alternative to Animal Testing of Pharmaceuticals


ORLANDO, Fla. --- Hesperos Inc., utilizing technology developed by UCF and Cornell University scientists to enable a more accurate way to test pharmaceuticals without using animal subjects, has been awarded a major international prize.

This innovative technology, known as Body-on-a-Chip or Human-on-a-Chip, was recently awarded the 2015 Lush Prize for Science over 11 finalists from Japan, Switzerland, Germany, South Korea, Australia, the U.K. and the U.S.

Lush, the international cosmetics manufacturer with shops in 49 countries, has awarded the Lush Prize since 2012 in five categories. The 2015 Lush Science award includes a share of $380,000 in prize money.

UCF researcher Dr. James J. Hickman, Professor of Chemistry, Biomolecular Science and Electrical Engineering at the UCF NanoScience Technology Center, partnered with Dr. Michael Shuler at Cornell University to develop functional Body-on-a-Chip systems that are free of animal cells and animal sera.

Hickman and Shuler are utilizing Hesperos, a startup biotech research and development company, to commercialize the technology. Dr. Shuler is President and CEO and Dr. Hickman is Chief Scientist at Hesperos.

Body-on-a-Chip systems work with tissues derived from human cell sources to simulate human metabolism and function, including toxic side effects as well as efficacy from pharmaceutical drug candidates.

“Body-on-a-Chip systems can play a significant role in determining the efficacy and toxicity of new pharmaceuticals without the use of animals,” Dr. Shuler explained.

Dr. Hickman and Shuler’s team is researching ways to improve pharmaceutical testing. Aside from the ethical considerations of using live animal subjects to test potentially life-saving drugs, animal testing is woefully inaccurate.

“For every 50 drugs that are determined to be safe for animals, only one proves safe in humans,” Dr. Hickman said.

Hesperos’s goal is to further develop this technology to replace animal testing in the pre-clinical development of drugs and in the chemical and cosmetics industry as well as provide the ultimate systems for precision medicine applications.

Hesperos, Inc. is a client company of the UCF Business Incubation Program at Central Florida Research Park in east Orange County.  Hesperos is a service-based company that also offers custom designed systems for clients.  Visit .


* * *

For more information about this press release, contact

Dr. Michael Shuler, President and CEO, Hesperos, Inc. 607-255-0629

Dr. James Hickman, Chief Scientist, Hesperos, Inc. 407-823-1925

Carol Ann Dykes, Site Manager, UCF Business Incubation Program 407-207-7426

Larry Vershel or Beth Payan, Larry Vershel Communications Inc. 407-644-4142   


Dr. Hickman recognized at Science & Research Event

Under a sunset stroked sky in front of the University of Central Florida’s main administration building, university leaders celebrated the common traits of tenacity, collaborative spirit, and commitment to excellence that UCF’s top grant earning researchers share.

Dr. Hickman was among them bringing in $1.89M in research funding for the NanoScience Technology Center in 2015.  

Read more about the event here: (article)


Chief Scientist of Proteros joins Hesperos

Dr. We are pleased to announce Dr. Torston Hoffmann joining the Hesperos team as Senior Consultant for Drug Discovery.  

Dr. Hoffmann is currently the Chief Scientific Officer for Proteros biostructures in Munich, Germany. He is the the creator and inventor of Netupitant, an anti-emetic medicine for the preventive treatment of cancer-chemotherapy induced nausea and vomiting, approved by the FDA as Akynzeo© in 2014, and recommended since 2015 by the National Comprehensive Cancer Network, an alliance of 26 of the world's leading cancer centers. 

Click to read his full bio on the Team page. 

Dr. Shuler to be Keynote Speaker at Lab-On-Chip World Congress

San Diego, CA:  Sept 28 - 30, 2015

Focusing specifically on his work with Body-On-A-Chip technologies, Dr. Shuler will be a keynote speaker at the conference in San Diego later this month.  

Click here to learn more about Dr. Shuler and the rest of the team working on this technology.  

More information on the conference below: and at this LINK

Conference Overview

Bringing together researchers and industry participants from both academia and industry, this established congress now in its 7th year, will discuss the innovative developments in the Lab-on-a-Chip (LOAC), Microfluidics, and the Microarrays Spaces.

Presentations will explore the latest advances in LOAC and Microfluidics. Focus at this conference will also be given to some of the many applications of Lab-on-a-Chip, from life science research, to taking diagnostics to the point-of-care/point-of-need and body-on-a-chip/organs-on-a-chip.

We focus on LOAC device production technologies, novel designs/technologies for manufacture, as well as the key application areas for LOAC from research to diagnostics.

There is an Extensive International Perspective at this Conference with Speakers, Poster Presenters, Sponsors, and Exhibitors from the US, Europe, and Asia/Pacific.

Running alongside the conference will be an exhibition covering the latest technological advances and associated products and services from leading solution providers within this field from around the world.

Registered delegates will have access to the other co-located and concurrent conference tracks to mix-and-match presentations and maximize networking:

1. Point-of-Care Diagnostics & Global Health World Congress
2. Next-Generation Sequencing (NGS), Single-Cell Analysis (SCA) and Mass Spectrometry: The Road to Diagnostics