In this graphic, the Wyss Institute’s human Body-on-Chip system is layered on top of Leonardo da Vinci’s ink drawing of the “Vitruvian Man”, which represents ideal human body proportions. Credit: Wyss Institute at Harvard University

The Body-on-Chip platform will eliminate the need for animal trials

The innovative system mimics the behavior of 10 connected organs in a human body

Faisal Khan
Feb 4 · 3 min read

Even with the huge advancements that we have made in the medical field with the help of technology, it hasn’t replaced the need to conduct cruel animal trials and clinical human trials before a drug can be approved. Scientists have been working an alternative approach that is efficient, accurate and doesn’t involve the use of “lab rats”.

The good news is that scientists at Harvard’s Wyss Institute have come up with a functioning Body-on-Chips platform dubbed as the INTERROGATOR, which can provide valuable insights on how a particular drug will behave when administered to a human body. The current system builds on the previous one designed by the scientists at Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine in 2017. However, Wyss Institute has improved the platform, providing a much clearer picture.

Apart from eliminating the need for animal & human trials, the innovative design can let the doctors' screen drugs for different organs. In real life, a drug that may be safe for a particular organ could create side effects for other organs. The platform goes further yet, with replicating the complicated functions of 10 different human organs while connecting them via fluidic pathways to observe how the flow of simulated blood impacts the entire system.

The main emphasis of the Organs-on-a-chip platform is on two aspects namely pharmacokinetics (PK) and pharmacodynamics (PD). PK refers to how a drug is absorbed, distributed, metabolized & excreted by the human body while PD refers to how the drug affects the organs which include the side effects.

Organ chips that make the system are are microfluidic devices, the size of a memory stick. Two parallel channels are separated by a porous membrane where one is populated by cells of a particular organ, while the other one consists of vascular cells mimicking blood vessels. Vascular channels connect organs-on-chips and are used to transfer fluid just like blood flows in the human body.

Researchers conducted a few experiments to test the usability of the system. In the first one, they used the platform to connect Organ Chips simulating the gut, the liver and a kidney. Nicotine was added to the gut chip to mimic oral administration of the drug from where it passed to the liver & kidney via the vascular system to be metabolized & secreted respectively. Mass spectrometry analysis confirmed the effects of this drug administration to closely replicate what would happen in actual humans.

The second experiment involved studying the effects of a common chemotherapy drug called cisplatin which caused toxicity in kidney & bone marrow. The platform results once again proved to be accurate and within what one would see in real-life. Further testing & eventual approval of the platform would mean that animal testing can be progressively phased out as this futuristic technology takes shape.

The research was published across two studies in the journal Nature Biomedical Engineering.

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Faisal Khan

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