In the news this week has been an interesting approach to replicating human disease in a ‘lung-on-a-chip’ device. The lung-on-a-chip, which is about the size of a USB stick, contains hollow channels lined with living human cells. Applying a vacuum to two channels along the side of the chip allows it to recreate the way in which tissues physically expand and contract during respiration.
It has successfully replicated the conditions seen in pulmonary oedema (fluid accumulation in the lungs), and predicted results of a new drug for this life-threatening condition, which showed benefit in animal studies.
The researchers who developed the chip now plan to apply the technology to other human organs, and one day hope to be able to use it as part of an automated system to test other drugs. In the long-run, this could lead to the gradual replacement of animal models of human disease. It may also provide insights into human lung disease which are difficult to achieve in with animal studies. For example, it’s possible to carry out high-resolution imaging of the cells themselves to explore blood clot formation and fluid flow.
Yesterday, this research was awarded the 3Rs prize for its potential to replace the use of animals in research from the National Centre for the Replacement, Refinement and Reduction of Animals in Research (NC3Rs).
Huh, D., Leslie, D., Matthews, B., Fraser, J., Jurek, S., Hamilton, G., Thorneloe, K., McAlexander, M., & Ingber, D. (2012). A Human Disease Model of Drug Toxicity-Induced Pulmonary Edema in a Lung-on-a-Chip Microdevice Science Translational Medicine, 4 (159), 159-159 DOI: 10.1126/scitranslmed.3004249