Organs-on-chips have been getting a lot of attention, both in the media as well as at scientific conferences, such as last month’s 10th World Congress on Alternatives and Animal Use in the Life Sciences. And for good reason. These innovative devices, which are lined with specific cell types and can mimic the function of human tissues and organs, may change the way researchers approach disease modeling, drug development and personalized medicine, sparing animal lives in the process.
A recent article in The Scientist highlighted the exciting progress that is being made with these useful research tools.
Researchers who developed the first organs-on-chips did so, in large part, to overcome limitations of the current drug development pipeline. Drugs that make it to human clinical trials are often unsuccessful because the animal models they are tested in do not accurately predict how the drugs will work in people. This wastes time, resources and countless animal lives. There was a need to develop a human-relevant alternative to facilitate drug development and advance personalized medicine.
Dr. Donald Ingber, founding director of the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University, is a leader in the field of organs-on-chips. “I think for most people,” Ingber noted, “the goal is to replace animal testing and to carry out personalized medicine in a more effective way.” Researchers at his institute have developed about 15 different organs-on-chips. Some even include mechanical forces to better replicate movement, like the breathing motion in the lungs, or the wave-like contractions that occur in the gut.
While the development of individual organ-on-chip models is no small feat, there’s a lot of interest in taking these devices to the next level: a model which can mimic whole-body physiology. To this end, one main goal was to connect ten different organs-on-chips together to create a so-called “human body-on-a-chip.” Dr. Linda Griffith, a biological engineering professor at MIT and her team have recently reported that they successfully reached this milestone, by linking together 10 organ microphysiological systems for a month! We look forward to hearing more about this significant effort.
Only time will tell if the organs-on-chips will live up to all of the hype. The validation process for the devices is ongoing, and we remain cautiously optimistic that the tools will function as intended, will produce data that is reproducible, accurate and reliable—and will ultimately replace the use of animals in many areas of research.
Learn more about the organ-on-chip research that NAVS is funding through the International Foundation for Ethical Research (IFER).
Source: Kwon, D. “Organs on Chips.” The Scientist, August 28, 2017.