ERJ staff report (TP)
Harvard, Massachusetts – A piece of flexible silicone rubber the size of a USB stick could herald the end of drug testing on animals.
Professor Donald Ingber, founding director of the Wyss Institute at Harvard, US, is a pioneer of the concept of an "organ on a chip".
This involves placing the human cells and fluids necessary to mimic the complexity of human physiology on a single, tiny piece of see-through, flexible silicone rubber the size of a USB stick.
In Ingber’s new startup, ‘Emulate’, these chips – in partnership with Sony – will be mass-produced for the first time.
The chips have fluid flowing through them, so they can be connected to each other, creating a "human on a chip" where lungs, livers, intestines, skin, kidneys and eyes can be integrated to simulate how a whole body would interact with a new drug.
And the end result of this development could make animal testing obsolete.
In the UK, animal testing is a regulatory requirement for any new drugs. But it is still a fairly unpredictable guide to how a drug will react in humans.
Dr Geraldine A Hamilton, who works with Ingber to develop the technology and commercialise it, said: "Animals can fail to predict in humans how drugs will work. Different animal species may give you different answers as to whether a drug is toxic for humans. Which one do you trust? Many good drugs are lost at that point.
"So we recreate the conditions the cells find themselves in by using micro-engineering to provide them with all the cellular integration, fluids and even mechanical forces that they are used to, such as breathing in and out.
“We can also connect them in our human bioemulation platform to model and better understand diseases, and to study how humans respond to drugs."