Micro-engineered organs-on-chips can lead to personalised medical treatments

Researchers who created living human organs on microchips that may lead to personalised healthcare and the development of new lifesaving drugs, have said the technology will be rolled-out to a level which can have a major impact on society.

Ten different microchips, including those that mimic liver, gut, kidney and bone marrow have been created by a team at the Wyss Institute.

The development, which has taken place over three years and started with a lung on a chip, could help to assess the predictive safety of new drugs, chemical and cosmetics.

In a bid to increase the usefulness of the technology, so it can be used for wider testing and potentially help the development of drugs, it is now set to be commercialised.

If successful it will also help to reduce the need for animal testing.

Organs-on-Chips may also be able to be developed from an individual’s stem cells to potentially create personalised treatments in the future.

The organs-on-chips are crystal clear, flexible polymers that are around the size of a USB flash drive.

They contain hollow channels which are made using computer microchip manufacturing techniques.

The channels are then lined by living cells and tissues which mimic the organs.

The team has also developed an instrument to automate the organs and link them together by a flowing medium that mimics blood – which can help to replicate the human body’s response.

When the original lung chip was developed in 2010 Wyss technology development fellow Dan Huh said: “We were inspired by how breathing works in the human lung through the creation of a vacuum that is created when our chest expands, which sucks air into the lung and causes the air sac walls to stretch.

“Our use of a vacuum to mimic this in our microengineered system was based on design principles from nature.”

The decision by the Institute to commercialise the technology led the researchers to refine the chips by testing existing drugs and modelling various human diseases on the chips.

Wyss Institute Founding Director Don Ingber said the technology is now “poised to have a major impact on society.”

If the chips can be successfully commercialised to the level where they can be mass-manufactured there is a greater chance of it being used to help improve the health of those who need it.

Featured image courtesy of Harvard’s Wyss Institute