Body-on-a-Chip Tackles Cancer Drug Testing

NAVS has long recognized the potential that organs-on-chips have for reducing and replacing the use of animals in science, which is why we help fund their development through the International Foundation for Ethical Research. We are pleased to share with you some exciting new research involving these animal-free alternatives, with applications in the cancer field.

A collaboration between researchers at the biotech companies Hesperos and Roche, and scientists at the University of Central Florida, has resulted in the development of an important research tool that could reduce reliance on animal models. Scientists developed a human multi-organ system, which links together miniature models of the heart and liver with different human cancer cell lines to test the efficacy and off-target toxicity of cancer drugs.

Human-based models such as these seek to overcome limitations of some in vitro models (which have been criticized as being too simplistic) and animal models (which lack human relevance). This multi-organ system has the advantage of being more physiologically-relevant, as it captures the complexity of multiple organ models and the “cross-talk” between them.

When testing potential chemotherapeutics using a system like this, drugs can be circulated through fluid-filled microchannels which connect the tissues to one another.  In addition to seeing how effective the drugs are in killing the cancer cells, the device can also make researchers aware of potential negative effects on the other tissues found on the chip.

Remarkably, researchers using this body-on-a-chip device were able to recapitulate in vitro effects of cancer drugs that were seen in human patients.

For instance, one cancer drug, imatinib, is not known to cause toxicity to other organs systems when given as a chemotherapeutic drug to cancer patients.  Likewise, the drug didn’t harm liver cells in the body-on-a-chip. On the other hand, a different drug, diclofenac, which is known to cause liver toxicity in people, also caused damage to the liver cells on the chip.  Tests with other cancer drugs also mirrored the effects that were seen in human patients.

Because preclinical studies in animals often do not predict the way that drugs work in people, it is especially important for human-relevant models, such as “body-on-a-chip” devices to be developed and used instead, as their use will help people and animals alike. As the study’s authors note, “[t]hese systems can augment and reduce the use of animals and increase the efficiency of drug evaluations in preclinical studies.”

NAVS is pleased to see such effort in developing improved cell-based models intended to mimic both organ function and communication between organs, as such devices have the potential to better predict what happens in people better than existing animal-based approaches. We will keep you informed of any other developments in this area.


Image: McAleer et al., Science Translational Medicine, 2019

Sources: Collins, F. “Body-on-a-chip device predicts cancer drug responses,” NIH Director’s Blog, September 26, 2019. 

McAleer, C. et al. “Multi-organ system for the evaluation of efficacy and off-target toxicity of anticancer therapeutics,” Science Translational Medicine, 2019.

This entry was posted in News and tagged on October 7, 2019.
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