New drugs and products are often tried out on animals before any testing is done on humans. Other than the animal cruelty that can be involved in new drug trials, another problem is that animals simply aren’t human, which means they don’t have the same human response, thus making the results in an animal study not necessarily translatable to humans. In fact, 94 percent of drugs that pass animal studies will fail during human trials.
To eliminate animal studies altogether, researchers have built a proxy for the human body by linking together “organ chips.” The organ chips — tissue cells from a specific organ, linked together like systems in the body — will allow researchers to study the human response to various drugs and chemicals in the lab, without needing human or animal test subjects. “It’s a little bit like human experimentation in vitro,” says biologist Donald Ingber.
If this conjures thoughts of Frankenstein, rest assured, the body-on-chips system is hardly human. It looks more like a tesselation of polymer tiles, each about the size of a domino. Two fluid channels are lined with human tissue cells from blood vessels and various body parts.
Each organ chip represents a different function, such as a lung, a liver, or the blood-brain barrier. Ingber’s team at Harvard’s Wyss Institute built an instrument, called the Interrogator, which automatically links the organ chips to create a functional “human body-on-chips.” With this platform, they can predict how the human body will metabolize drugs. At the moment, the team is using these chips in search of a treatment for Covid-19.
At the Optimist Daily, we are keen to see a future where scientists won’t have to rely on animals for experimentation. That’s why we’ll be keeping a close eye on the development of these organ chips.