‘Organs-on-chips’ go mainstream

Sara Reardon in Nature:

GlowingChip_12905Researchers who are developing miniature models of human organs on plastic chips have touted the nascent technology as a way to replace animal models. Although that goal is still far off, it is starting to come into focus as large pharmaceutical companies begin using these in vitro systems in drug development. “We are pretty excited about the interest we get from pharma,” says Paul Vulto, co-founder of the biotechnology company Mimetas in Leiden, the Netherlands. “It’s much quicker than I’d expected.” His company is currently working with a consortium of three large pharmaceutical companies that are testing drugs on Mimetas’s kidney-on-a-chip. At the Organ-on-a-Chip World Congress in Boston, Massachusetts, last week, Mimetas was one among many drug and biotechnology firms and academic researchers showing off the latest advances in miniature model organs that respond to drugs and diseases in the same way that human organs such as heart and liver do.

“We’re surprised at how rapidly the technology has come along,” says Dashyant Dhanak, global head of discovery sciences at Johnson & Johnson in New Jersey, which announced last month that it would use a thrombosis-on-chip model from Massachusetts biotechnology firm Emulate to test whether experimental and already-approved drugs could cause blood clots. Proponents of organs-on-chips say that they are more realistic models of the human body than are flat layers of cells grown in Petri dishes, and could also be more useful than animal models for drug discovery and testing. A lung-on-a-chip, for instance, might consist of a layer of cells exposed to a blood-like medium on one side and air on the other, hooked up to a machine that stretches and compresses the tissue to mimic breathing.

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