Liver chip identifies species-specific differences in drug metabolism and toxicity

NAVS sees great promise in the ability of organs-on-chips—three-dimensional bioengineered devices made with living cells designed to accurately mimic the function of tissues and organs—to significantly reduce the use of animals in scientific experimentation. Because human cells can be grown within the chips, these tools have greater human relevance than animal models. They may also better predict the safety and efficacy of drugs in the clinic than animals, who are poorly predictive of human clinical responses.

Over the last several years, NAVS has been supporting the development of these and other human-relevant research tools through our funding of International Foundation for Ethical Research (IFER) fellowships, which support student scientists working to develop alternatives to animal use.

Of the organ chips that have been developed, the liver-on-a-chip has captured the interest of many industries because of its ability to analyze complex biochemical interactions in real time, which can greatly facilitate liver toxicity testing for the development of foods, drugs and other products.

A recent development with this chip, published in Science Translational Medicine, investigated whether liver chips designed to mimic the livers of rats, dogs and humans would be able to identify species-specific differences in drug metabolism and toxicity. 

When a drug known to cause liver toxicity in humans was tested in all three chips, it showed lower toxicity in the rat and dog chips as compared to the human chip. The chips were able to replicate the in vivo responses of several other drugs as well and also provided information about the mechanisms of action for the different drugs. This was not possible using existing cell and animal models.

Dr. Donald Ingber, Wyss Founding Director, co-author of the study and mentor of former IFER fellowship recipient Bryan Hassell, stated “This work represents a major achievement for the Organ Chip field because it shows the power of this technology to provide insight into human-relevant responses where current preclinical animal models often fail. This needs to be evaluated and confirmed by others, but if it is, then this could change the way drugs are developed around the world and help begin to reduce the numbers of animals that are used in drug development efforts worldwide.

It is exciting that the human liver chip can mimic the effects of drugs seen in human patients, and that it offers the potential to reduce reliance on animal models, which do not accurately predict the effect of drugs in people.

Help NAVS continue to support smarter science that advances discovery, innovation and human-relevant solutions without the use of harmful, flawed and costly animal experiments by making a donation today.


“Liver-Chip Identifies Distinct Drug Toxicities in Human, Rat, and Dog Models” Wyss Institute Website.  November 6, 2019

This entry was posted in News and tagged on November 18, 2019.
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