As the old adage goes, “necessity is the mother of invention”. Scientists for a long period of time have battled with the challenges of prompt testing of pharmaceutical innovations and disease modeling without risking humans’ health . Close animals relatives and donated body organs have offered a stop-gap measure. In certain situations, they have sufficed. In certain drug line testing, they have failed. Forcing initially approved drugs to be pulled off the pharmaceutical shelves once humans report cases of adverse reaction not detected by the earlier animal simulation. A case in point is the drug Troglitazone. Licensed by FDA to treat diabetes, manifested its adverse reaction three years post-human clinical trials.

Scientists responded to these shortcomings by developing organs-on-chips. A three dimension microchip that mimics the human body vascular system complete with organ cells to study and predict drug and human body interactions.

The Making of Organs-On-Chips

The shortfalls of using animals to simulate human reactions to drugs and disease interaction coupled with the failure of conventional laboratory models to replicate the three-dimensional human body organ physiological organization resulted in  a new frontier by bioengineers and cell biologist from Harvard University’s Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering.

Inspired by computer microchips technology, the team fabricated a system that could support cells life in vitro (outside the human body).This creation was christened organs on chips. The polymeric microdevice is designed in layers with spaces left in between for the circulation of fluids and air that nourishes the cells that align the device interior channels. The complexity of the device can be heightened through the variation of cells incorporated. This ensures a robust model that mimics human body physiological system. Mechanical forces (breathing and peristalsis forces) proportionate to those in a natural occurring organism is added to pump life into the microfabricated system.

The Missing Piece in the Puzzle of Drug Invention

According to the brains behind the invention, the organs on chip devices was designed with a goal of reconstituting organ physiological function to expedite research and development of pharmaceutical drugs and do away with the animal simulating humans reactions in biomedical tests.

Animal simulating humans to predict drug interaction according to the pioneers of human organs on microchips is ridden with lots of controversy in reference to scientific research ethics. In addition to that, prohibitive costs of conducting this clinical trial have made research a very costly and time-consuming affair. This is manifested by the price you cough for novel medical therapeutic inventions. It’s estimated that it takes close to 12 years and over 1.8 billion dollars for a single drug to make it to the drugs national formulary! The inability of the conventional animal models to give an accurate prediction of the drug–human interactions, proved the death knell of the conventional models that banked on animals to simulate human reaction. Avoid being filled by human organs on chips. However, it should be noted that the technology is still at its infancy stage albeit very promising.

Application of Organs on Chips

The notion that microchip can reconstitute the physiological organ functions of the vital body organs such as the lungs, artery and gut present a new dawn in precision medicine. An era where a microchip is entirely made up of an individual stems cells (cells with the ability to differentiate into functional organ cells) thus facilitating disease diagnosis and best line of treatment at an individual level.

The good news doesn’t stop there. Ethical concerns of using humans as tools of research predisposing them to the unforeseen sequel of either the drug or disease will be a thing of the past. Organs on microchips will be a perfect substitute.

In combating highly infectious diseases such as Ebola, time is of the essence. A 12-year duration for a drug discovery with all due honesty will be a remedial too little too late. Organs on a chip promise to shorten this duration significantly. Consequently, reducing the cost of drug research and development.

The organ on a chip though in its infancy stages of development, is being touted the game changer in waiting in the field of pharmaceutical innovations and disease modeling by one of the founding fathers of Wyss Institute at Harvard University, Donald Ingber. A prophesy that the scientific world eagerly awaits to pass.