Body On-A-Chip Technology Promises to Transforms Drug Development

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Body On-A-Chip Technology Promises to Transforms Drug Development

According to the California Biomedical Research Association, it takes an average of 12 years for a drug to travel from the research lab to the patient.  And, only five in 5,000, or 0.1%, of the drugs that begin pre-clinical testing ever make it to human testing and just one of these five is ever approved for human usage. Furthermore, on average, it will cost a company $359 million to develop a new drug from the research lab to the patient.

But now, that’s all about to change. A new technology promises to dramatically compress the first 5 to seven years of the process to a matter of months, dramatically shrinking the cost of work leading up to clinical trials and sharply reducing the number of phase-one trials that end in failure. That means that more drugs, for more diseases will available sooner/

This breakthrough is called a “body-on-a-chip.” 

Using the same expertise employed to build new organs for patients, scientists at the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine have engineered micro-hearts, lungs and livers that can be used to test new drugs. By combining the micro-organs into a monitored system, the researchers aim to mimic how the human body responds to medications.

Drug compounds are currently screened in the lab using human cells and then tested in animals. But neither of these methods adequately replicates how drugs affect human organs.

"There is an urgent need for improved systems to accurately predict the effects of drugs, chemicals and biological agents on the human body," according to Dr. Anthony Atala, director of the institute and senior researcher on the body on a chip project, funded by DARPA.

In a recent issue of Nature Scientific Reports, the research team reported success engineering micro-sized 3D organs, known as organoids, and connecting them together on a single platform to monitor their functions. While other teams have combined cells from multiple organs in a similar system, this is the first reported success using 3D organ structures, which are higher functioning and more accurately model the human body. 

The organ structures were made from cell types found in native human tissue using 3D printing and other methods.

While body-on-a-chip will ultimately integrate all major body systems, the recently tested prototype focused on the lungs, liver, and heart.  The heart and liver were selected for the system because “toxicity in these organs” is a major cause of drug candidate failures and drug recalls. Lungs are the point of entry for toxic particles and also for aerosol drugs, such as asthma inhalers.

The organoids are placed in a sealed, monitored system, complete with real-time cameras...

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