Over the last several years, Science First has highlighted many of the exciting advances being made with organs-on-chips, three-dimensional cell-based models designed to accurately mimic the function of human tissues and organs. Thanks to the Tissue Chip for Drug Screening program, an initiative launched by the National Center for Advancing Translational Science in 2012, over two dozen tissue chips representing a variety of organs are currently in development.
The need for these sophisticated models arose in large part due to limitations with existing in vitro and in vivo models. According to a recent Nature Medicine article, “The cell and animal models that drug companies use to test their compounds cannot always predict how humans will react to those drugs, and so even medicines with impressive preclinical data can sometimes flounder once they reach patients. The hope is that these chips, which contain human cells, will help pharmaceutical companies to weed out toxic compounds early, and so save time, money and lives.”
While organs-on-chips have been in development for many years, pharmaceutical companies have not widely adopted these tools. Now, however, steps are finally being taken to implement this technology. Important discussions between pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies have been taking place in order to achieve a better understanding of exactly how the organs-on-chips can be used by pharma, and how they can be validated for toxicity testing.
Many see organs-on-chips being used early in the drug development process, before drugs would be tested in animal studies. If the drugs were to fail in safety screens using the chips, then they would not be screened in animal models, saving money—and animal lives.
The validation process for organs-on-chips is beginning, and the tools are being tested through both government-led and private efforts to see if they are functioning as intended and to ensure that data produced from them is reproducible, accurate and reliable.
We will keep you updated on the progress that continues to be made with these human-relevant models that have the potential to significantly impact the use of animals in scientific experimentation.
READ MORE: Learn about organs-on-chips on the NAVS website.
Source: Willyard, C. “Channeling chip power: Tissue chips are being put to the test by industry.” Nature Medicine 23, Feb. 2017, p. 138-140.