3D-printed “organs” could lead to better drugs

A new way to bring a change Drugs to market can cost billions of dollars and take more than a decade. These high monetary and time investments are both strong contributors to today’s skyrocketing health care costs and significant obstacles to delivering new therapies to patients. These barriers are largely due to the lab models that drug developers use in order to create new drugs.

Preclinical trials, or studies that test a drug’s efficacy and toxicity before it enters clinical trials in people, are mainly conducted on cell cultures and animals. Both have limitations due to their inability to replicate human body conditions. Petri dishes cannot reproduce every aspect of tissue function in cell cultures. This includes how cells interact with each other and the dynamics of living organisms. And animals are not humans — even small genetic differences between species can be amplified to major physiological differences.

Only 8% of cancer therapies that are tested on animals have made it to human clinical trial. Late-stage failures of animal models in human clinical trials can cause significant cost and health risks.

Researchers have developed an innovative model that closely mimics the human body to address this problem: organ-on a chip.

Analytical chemist, I am working to create organ and tissue models. These models avoid both the simplicity of cell cultures and the differences of animal models. Organs-on-chips are a tool that can be used to study diseases and test drugs under conditions closer to the real world.

What is organs-on chips?

Microfluidics has allowed researchers to cultivate cells that mimic the functions of human cells.WLADIMIR BULG/SCIENCEPHOTO LIBRARY/Science Photo Library/Getty Images

Researchers discovered a way to use elastic polymers to control fluids at the microscopic level in the late 1990s. Microfluidics was born. This field is used to mimic fluid flow in the body.

Microfluidics has allowed researchers to cultivate cells that perform more like the ones found in the human body. The “chip” refers to the microfluidic device that encases the cells. They’re commonly made using the same technology as computer chips.

Organs-on-chips not only mimic blood flow, but also include microchambers that allow researchers integrate multiple types cells to replicate the variety of cell types found in an organ. Researchers can study the interactions between these cell types and their fluid flow.

This technology can overcome limitations in animal studies as well as static cell cultures. The first is that fluid flows in the model, which allows it to replicate the physiological functions of a cell, including how it gets nutrients and eliminates wastes. Second, it can interact with multiple kinds of cells and move in the blood. Researchers are able to adjust the dosing of a drug by controlling fluid flow.

For instance, the lung-on a chip model is capable of integrating both the mechanical as well as physical characteristics of a live human lung. It’s able to mimic the dilation and contraction, or inhalation and exhalation, of the lung and simulate the interface between the lung and air. Researchers can use this ability to study the effects of different factors on lung impairment.

Organs-on-chips brought to scale

3D printing makes organ-on-a chip production much easier.WLADIMIR BULG/SCIENCEPHOTO LIBRARY/Science Photo Library/Getty Images

Although organ-on a chip pushes the boundaries in early-stage pharmaceutical research and development, it has not been widely adopted into drug development processes. High complexity and low practicality of these chips are a major obstacle to wide adoption.

It is difficult to use current organ-on a-chip models. Because most models only allow one input, they can be expensive, time-consuming, and labor-intensive to put into practice. These models can be difficult to adopt due to the high investment required. To reduce costs and time, preclinical research is often done using the simplest models possible.

It is crucial to lower the technical hurdles to making and using organs-on chips. This will allow the whole research community to reap the benefits of these devices. This does not mean that the models must be simplified. My lab, for example, has designed various “plug-and-play” tissue chips that are standardized and modular, allowing researchers to readily assemble premade parts to run their experiments.

3D printing has made it possible to create organ-on-achip. This allows researchers to directly produce tissue and organ models from chips. 3D printing allows for rapid prototyping, design sharing and mass production of standard materials.

Organs-on chips have the potential for breakthroughs in drug discovery. They also allow researchers to better understand organ function in health and disease. Increasing this technology’s accessibility could help take the model out of development in the lab and let it make its mark on the biomedical industry.

This article was originally published by The Conversation Chengpeng Chen from the University of Maryland You can read the original article by clicking here.