New ‘body-on-a-chip’ succeeds where animal tests failed

A newly developed system of inter-connected mini organs appears to have done a better job of identifying harmful drug toxicity than previously-used animal models.

As you know, we at NAVS believe that human-relevant research models have the potential to reduce and replace the use of animals in scientific experimentation. We see the value of using these models to advance our understanding of basic human biology and disease in a human-relevant, animal-free way, which is why we fund research using animal-free alternatives through the International Foundation of Ethical Research.

That’s why we are excited to share with you a significant development in the area of organoid research, recently highlighted in Popular Mechanics.

Researchers at the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine (WFIRM) have developed what has been touted “the world’s most sophisticated laboratory model of the human body,” by developing a full system of organoids, complex three-dimensional in vitro models that mimic the structure and function of real tissues and organs.

Although organoid research has been taking place for some time, and many different organoid models are already available, including models of the liver, kidney, brain, breast and gastrointestinal tract, many had viewed organoids as simply complements to animal testing—until now.

The model was used to examine the effect of a panel of drugs that are known to cause either liver or heart failure and were later recalled by the FDA. The 3D organoid system was able to demonstrate toxicity for many of these drugs that was missed by pre-clinical tests, including those on animals. And this toxicity went on to cause harm to people who took the supposedly “safe” drugs. Had this human-relevant alternative been available and used in place of the animals, the danger the drugs subsequently presented to humans could potentially have been avoided.

In addition to its potential human health and safety benefits, Wake Forest’s multi-organoid ‘body-on-a-chip’ system may also reduce the cost and time it takes to get drugs to market. This model represents a significant step toward the reduction or elimination of the use of animals in this area of research.

NAVS commends these researchers for investing their time and effort into generating complex, human-relevant models that have the potential of improving human health and well-being, while reducing reliance on animal models at the same time.

We will be sure to keep you updated on the progress that comes from using these innovative research tools.



Linder, C. “These impossibly tiny organs could finally end animal testing,” Popular Mechanics, March 9, 2020.

“Wake Forest School of Medicine Scientists Create World’s Most Sophisticated Lab Model of the Human Body,” Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center Website, March 2, 2020. 

This entry was posted in News and tagged on March 23, 2020.
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