US government funding creation of miniature human organs on plastic chips

Posted by | February 27, 2015 | Technology | No Comments
Lung chip
Researchers at several institutions are working tirelessly to build organs with funding from US government agencies, but not the kind of organs you’re equipped with. These would be organs on a chip, which would allow scientists to study disease and toxins like never before. Plans for organs on chips were recently discussed at a meeting of the American Society for Microbiology (ASM), and we may be getting close to what one researchers gleefully calls “Homo chippiens.” Taxonomy jokes are fun.

So why go to all the hassle of developing 3D models of organs in chip form? After all, cell cultures already exist. According to researchers in the field, it’s a more accurate model than growing cells in a petri dish or using animal organs, and there are none of those ethical quandaries that crop up when you go around infecting people with pathogens just to study their organs.

Most methods of growing organs on a chip involve seeding cells into channels on a small plastic chip. These cells are fed with a nutrient broth that mimics blood flow and allows the cells to grow outward to fill the channel. Because the cells can form a three dimensional lattice, you get a more accurate picture of how the cells interact with each other.

organ chipsThis is especially important for researchers studying how dangerous pathogens infect and multiply in the body. This is, of course, key to testing treatments as there aren’t always infected people to work with. For example, the US government stockpiles countermeasures for natural and weaponized diseases, but much of it has never been tested. Organs on a chip could make that possible.

Individual organs like a lung and liver are possible with current technology, but the next step will take some time. Researchers from around the world are banding together to link up multiple organs-on-a-chip to form a working model of the human body. This would be the ultimate model for disease, but it’s no simple task to get the blood substitute to deliver the right nutrients in the right order and in the right quantities.

The US Environmental Protection Agency is chipping in $18 million specifically to develop a system that links up a liver with chips that simulate fetal membranes, mammary glands and developing limbs. The goal is to test what impact environmental toxins like dioxin and bisphenol A have on children. The Department of Homeland Security is interested in developing a system that can help doctors figure out how many anthrax spores are actually necessary to infect a person. That would allow DHS to estimate the scale of a bioweapons attack before it happens.


Our best bet on developing the first Homo chippiens probably comes from a study funded by the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS) in Bethesda, Maryland. There are eleven research teams working to link at least four different organ chips together. Meanwhile, DARPA is looking toward the future with plans to design a 10-organ system. So when is it going to happen? It’s one of those “just five more years” things. This one might actually happen in five years, though.

Source: Science –

Powered by WPeMatico