The Future of Organ-Chip Models is Bright

Mousechip Crop

NAVS sees great potential in organ-on-a-chip devices to reduce—and ultimately replace—the use of animals in many areas of science, and we are excited that these innovative alternatives to animal use continue to make headlines.

In this week’s Science First, we want to share some highlights from a recent article about organs-on-chips in Genetics Engineering & Biotechnology News. In the article, experts working with organ chips discussed the devices’ strengths, as well as the challenges that hinder the more widespread use of these research tools.

One of the strongest scientific reasons for the development of organ chips is the need for more complex, human-relevant models. 

“Animal models, used as a proxy for humans in drug discovery and development, cannot consistently and accurately predict human efficacy and toxicity,” noted Dr. Donald Ingber, founding director of the Wyss Institute and mentor to a former recipient of a NAVS/International Foundation for Ethical Research (IFER) fellowship.  “Nor,” Ingber continued, “can they accommodate personalized medicine, which is already on our doorstep.”

This sentiment was shared by Dr. Lorna Eward, executive vice president of science at Emulate, a company that produces organ-on-a-chip devices for researchers. “I remain very optimistic that organ-chip technology will dramatically disrupt pharmaceutical R&D in the coming years.”

Experts in these alternatives recognize there are challenges that must be overcome, including the batch-to-batch variability among the cells used in these devices. Importantly, Dr. Ingber also indicated that the introduction of bubbles in microfluidic channels remains problematic, as it can block the flow in the device. “[The bubble] kills everything,” he noted. “Having automated systems that can control pressures and flows is therefore important.”

Looking forward, the experts cited in the article identified several improvements that would help increase the viability and usage of organs-on-chips. The improvements include:

  • the development of a universal cell culture medium that could be used for all of the different cell types that are found in organs-on-chips;  
  • additional sensors integrated into the chips that can provide real time readouts and data; and
  • user-friendly systems that are easy to integrate, as these tools are being developed by many different manufacturers and companies.

One thing is clear, however: The research community sees great potential in organs-on-chips for transforming drug discovery, advancing the field of personalized medicine and reducing reliance on animal models. NAVS will continue to support the development and use of these powerful models and will keep you posted on the latest developments in this area. 

You can help raise visibility for NAVS’ work on behalf of animals by posting a review of your experience with us on Your positive review will help NAVS earn recognition as a 2021 Top-Rated Nonprofit. Thank you!  

Source: Kaila, P. Organs-on-Chips: Expand the Boundaries of In Vitro Testing, Genetics Engineering & Biotechnology News, July 2021.  Vol. 41, No. 7.