By MACKENZIE STEELE

 

Organ on a Chip is a relatively new technology you may have already heard of. A lot of people are getting excited about it, because it could completely change pharmaceutical testing. If you’re a vegan, animal lover, or tech-enthusiast, you will want to keep reading.

At the moment, when we need to test a new medicine, it is first trialled on animals, then on humans, before being released. Animal testing is a problem area for a lot of people, not only because of ethics but because of accuracy. The species we test on are slightly different to humans, so they will have slightly different reactions to medicines than we do. This means pretty much everyone agrees that an alternative must be found, and it looks like Organ on a Chip might be it.

A chip is a clear rectangle, the size of an AA battery. Inside, you can see the workings of an artificial organ made of human cells grown in the lab. Sometimes, multiple organs are fitted onto a chip, and can even work together. The chip uses microfluidics to allow organs to grow in a lab, something that can’t be done usually. This would mean working organs could be experimented on in a lab, which we could use for researching diseases and testing drugs, without using animals as test subjects.

Another place chips could help is in personalised medicines. This is an idea that’s been around for years. The problem is that different people react differently to the same medicines (think the antihistamine that puts you to sleep, but does nothing for your friend, or chemo that doesn’t work too well for some people). Personalised medicines would be targeted for each individual person, rather than for the average person. A personalised medicine would be more likely to work, because you’d know exactly how the medicine interacts with your body, as it was tested on your cells in the lab. Chips would be a great way to test personalised medicines, because we could grow organs from specific people, and personalise a drug that will work best for them.

At the moment, these chips are still in testing. Many different labs and companies around the world are still working on this technology. Some chips, like the lung chip, don’t work the same as the organ being simulated yet. Others, like the heart chip, are fiddly and still in progress. And still more are ready to be properly trialled, for example the liver chip is currently being evaluated by the FDA. If approved, the FDA will use it to test the effects of drugs, cosmetics, and supplements, replacing animal testing.

The upshot is that, right now, this is a relatively new tech which needs a lot of refining. But it sure makes for an exciting future.

 

Here are some jumping-off points if you’d like to know more:

The FDA announcement, giving a bit of background on the research

The Wikipedia page, uses a lot of jargon though

A nice article about the chips

Another cool article about the chips

The official site of the Wyss Institute, who are helping the FDA

Wyss institute’s business’s official site, pretty nifty

Another site from a lab researching chips

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