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Could This Device End the Use of Animals in Medical Research?

April 24, 2018 in Blogs

By Peggy Cunniff, Independent Media Institute

An “organ-on-a-chip” could represent the greatest potential for non-animal-based scientific advancement in history.

They're about the size of a computer memory stick, yet they could represent the greatest potential for non-animal-based scientific advancement in history. They're called “organs-on-chips”—and they just might change the way researchers model diseases, develop drugs and approach personalized medicine. And in the process, they'll save the lives of countless animals.

Chances are, you've heard about organs-on-chips—at least in passing. These tiny devices have been getting a lot of attention lately, both in the media and within the scientific community. But what are they, exactly?

Organs-on-chips are specially-constructed systems that are designed to replicate the structure and function of human organs. Each “organ” contains transparent channels lined with living human cells. Multiple cell types can be incorporated into these devices to better mimic the complex microenvironments of human organs. The cells can be grown in such a way that enables them to change shape and respond to physical cues in ways that are not possible with traditional cell-based models.

An organ-on-a-chip developed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Imperial College London researchers recently published a study in which they found that a liver chip developed by MIT and CN Bio, a British firm, responded to a hepatitis B viral infection just like a real human liver would. (image credit: Felice Frankel/MIT)

Variations of these chips have already been developed and continue to be optimized. Among them are models of the human lung, liver, kidney, gut, bone, brain and heart, among others.

The first organ-on-a-chip to be developed was the lung-on-a-chip, which has lung and blood vessel cells grown on opposite sides of a flexible, porous platform that can expand and contract like a breathing lung. This model has been used to study chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, asthma, cancer and even the effects of smoking on bronchial cells.

There's a lot of excitement about organs-on-chips because they offer the potential of making drug development and toxicology testing faster …read more


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