If you’re an activist who frequently stumps for PETA’s anti-cruelty campaigns outside of animal-testing laboratories, you have reason to rejoice.
Scientists are developing a desk-top machine that “plays” plug-in cassettes about the size of a USB memory stick designed to simulate the complicated mechanical and biochemical behaviors of human organs. The little devices could put the kibosh on animal testing, speed up drug development and make medicine more affordable.
Scientists hope the device, which could be as large as an office photocopier, will be ready for the market in five years.
“We’re moving very quickly to building a plug-in-and-play instrument that anyone can use,” lead scientist Professor Donald Ingber, founding director of the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University, told the UK Press Association.
Ingber and his colleagues have already produced and tested devices that accurately mimic the lung, heart, liver, kidney, intestine, pancreas, skin and bone marrow. Ingber’s “Lung-on-a-Chip” was recently awarded the NC3Rs 3Rs Prize from the UK’s National Center for the Replacement, Refinement and Reduction of Animals in Research.
“We believe that our human breathing Lung-on-a-Chip, and other organ chips we have in development, represent a first wave of exciting new alternative approaches to animal testing that hopefully will change how drug development is carried out in the future,” Ingber said in a statement.
Though each chip is uniquely designed, they all essentially consist of reservoirs, channels and membranes lined with human cells. As fluid or air passes through the channels, scientists can monitor the cells’ response.
However, the project’s true aim is to give pharmaceutical companies a system that simulates multiple organs functioning at the same time, much like a real body.
“My hope is that we can replace one animal model at a time. Probably you’re always going to need animals for certain levels of organ interaction or behavior that you can’t mimic on a chip,” Ingber said. “But in the next five to 10 years we could see a significant reduction in animal testing.”
Credit: Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering, Harvard