Bringing a new drug to market takes roughly a decade and requires expensive and arduous testing on humans and animals. But a new technology developed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology aims to cut that time by half and perhaps replace animal testing entirely. The device, roughly the size of a paperback, is nicknamed “the body on a chip” and is designed to show scientists how a drug affects individual organs and the body as whole. The device’s surface contains shallow receptacles in which scientists deposit pregrown, 3-D tissue structures from up to 12 human organs. With prior help from microscopic scaffoldings, the cells have arranged themselves into something resembling their natural structure.
A series of pumps pushes fluid through the system, simulating some features of blood flow. Adding drugs allows scientists to understand their effects.
Of course, the human body is far too complex to be represented entirely on a device the size of a novel, and [Linda] Griffith’s chip is missing systems that could reveal vital information about how humans and animals react to drugs. Because organs on a chip lack a full immune system, cell cultures are frequently dosed with antibiotics to keep them alive. Griffith’s blue-sky goal? A chip with an immune system of its own.
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