The Game-Changing Body-on-a-Chip

Researchers at the Wyss Institute in Boston have successfully created a revolutionary human-relevant in vitro model, the “body-on-a-chip,” by linking several organ chip devices together. The sophisticated technology has the potential to reduce animal use in many areas of research including the safety testing of drugs. 

The idea to create the body-on-a-chip model was first proposed in 2011 by Dr. Donald Ingber, Founding Director of

the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University and mentor of former NAVS/IFER fellowship recipient Bryan Hassell. Importantly, one of the driving factors to develop this model was the inadequacy of animal-based models.

Dr. Ingber was the senior author of two articles published last month in Nature Biomedical Engineering, which demonstrated how his vision to create these important human-relevant tools became a reality.

Dr. Ingber noted the significance of this achievement by saying, “This is what we love to do at the Wyss Institute: make science fiction into science fact.  And we hope our demonstration that this level of biomimicry is possible using organ chip technology will garner even greater interest from the pharmaceutical industry so that animal testing can be progressively reduced over time.”

One article described a body-on-a-chip platform that was capable of interconnecting multiple different organ chips together. According to co-author Richard Novak, the research team “serially linked the vascular channels of eight different organ chips, including intestine, liver, kidney, heart, lung, skin, blood-brain barrier and brain, using a highly optimized common blood substitute.” The researchers were able to keep the tissues alive for over three weeks, demonstrate the functionality of the tissues, and use the model to examine the distribution of a chemical across the whole system.

The second article examined the effectiveness of three different interconnected organ chips representing the gut, liver and kidney, coupled with computational modeling, for studies of human drug absorption, metabolism and excretion.  Predictions made using this model were very promising, as they were similar to data obtained from human clinical studies.  The researchers anticipate this type of model could play a very important role in many areas of science that rely heavily on animal use, including drug discovery, regulatory assessment and toxicological evaluation.

NAVS commends these researchers for investing their time and effort into generating complex, human-relevant models that have the potential of improving human health and well-being, while reducing reliance on animal models at the same time.

We will be sure to keep you updated on the progress that comes from using these innovative research tools.

Source: Boettner, B. “Next generation of organ-on-chip has arrived.”  The Harvard Gazette, January 27, 2020. 

Image Credit: Wyss Institute at Harvard University