Non-Animal “Tissue Chips” Show Potential for Drug Testing

Image: DNA Strand

Over the last several years, NAVS has shared with you exciting advances that are being made with “tissue chips”—three-dimensional bioengineered devices made from human cells designed to accurately mimic the function of human tissues and organs.

The National Center for Advancing Translational Science (NCATS) initiated the Tissue Chip for Drug Screening Program in 2012, in collaboration with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and the Food and Drug Administration. The ultimate objective of the program is to develop an integrated human “body-on-a-chip” to serve as a predictive tool during the drug development process. This will provide researchers with a non-animal model with which they can test the effects of drugs prior to human clinical trials.

We are pleased to report that progress is being made in the Tissue Chip program. Several individual tissue chips have already been generated, and according to NCATS Director Dr. Christopher Austin, they “mimic human organ structure, function, and physiological and drug responses more accurately than traditional cell- and animal-testing methods.” Scientists have even begun integrating individual tissue chips together in an effort to model more complex interactions and diseases, which will allow a better characterization of how the body responds to drugs.

NCATS recently announced that the Tissue Chip program will be entering its newest phase. In this phase, the chips will be tested by labs other than those that developed them to see if the chips are functioning as intended and to ensure that data produced from them is reproducible, accurate and reliable. Scientists will also be investigating the effects of drugs on tissue chips to determine whether the results mimic effects seen in people who have taken the drugs. Testing sites have already been selected and a database will be created to compile and share information about protocols and data obtained.

Tissue chips were designed, in part, because of limitations with existing cell-based and animal models. They offer tremendous potential to serve as innovative, cell-based alternatives to facilitate the drug development process and study disease. Dr. Austin sees great promise in these tools, stating, “I am optimistic that tissue chips will one day be as commonplace as computer chips and will have an equally large impact, fundamentally improving the efficiency and effectiveness of the translational process and helping to get more treatments to more patients more quickly.”

What are your thoughts on tissue chips? Send your questions and comments to We look forward to hearing from you.

A New Phase for NCATS’ Tissue Chip Program

September 29, 2016

Just five years ago, the idea of engineering a human-body-on-a-chip to predict drug safety and efficacy seemed more like science fiction than reality. But today, NCATS’ Tissue Chip for Drug Screening program, a collaborative initiative with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), is closer than ever to attaining that vision.

For more information, see: NCATS


This entry was posted in News and tagged on October 17, 2016.
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