Dr Mark Donowitz and his team at the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences are working on artificial organs-on-chips that will be used for drug development. These organs-on-chips fit in the palm of your hand and look nothing like a real organ.

Donowitz states that there are 800,000 children dying from diarrhea-related diseases. This is complicated by the lack of effective drugs against diarrheal diseases and drug development tests on mice are not as effective. This is why the team set out to design a gut-on-a-chip that will hopefully solve the problem encountered when developing and testing certain drugs.

According to the project, cells harvested from human intestines will be placed on a chamber around the chip membrane and these cells will divide and organize themselves around the device. The device, which replicates the human intestine on an unprecedented scale, will be able to hold as much as 50,000 intestine cells and the tubes attached will provide the same flexibility its organic counterpart.

So far researchers have discovered that this gut-on-a-chip is able to react to intestinal diseases the same way as human intestines do. However, there are still improvements to be done as the chip organ is not able to replicate the system of blood vessels and nerve cells. The next step of the project is to achieve full replication of the human intestinal system.

The institute is right now funding 10 organ-on-a-chip projects in total, some of which are planned to replicate brain, liver and heart. Preliminary research done at the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard enabled this $75 million project to have a successful start. Donald Ingber, the founding director of the Wyss Institute, states that it is too early to expect this technology to replace tests on mice completely. But he is hoping that this promising technology will eventually speed up drug development processes and drop the related costs.

Story and image via NPR

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