Scientists Replicate Lung Medical Condition on an Organ Chip

A Forbes.com article reports that during the advertising of the 2012 Super Bowl, a post on the Eli Lilly blog reveals the firm spends an average of $1.3 billion to bring a new drug on the market. Forbes and Bernard Munos of the InnoThink Center for Research in Biomedical Innovation looked at the R&D numbers for each drug company.

According to their calculations, the industry’s average cost for the development of new drugs is $4 billion, which includes drug candidates that failed to make it to market.  Some clinical trials can run as high as $100 million.

30% Failure Rate

Approximately 30% of the therapeutic candidates that show promise in pre-clinical safety and toxicology studies conducted with animal models never make it out of the human clinical trial phase because of the therapy’s toxicity to humans.

This high failure rate and the efforts to save money and other resources have spurred researchers to develop “organ-on-a-chip” microsystems. These organ-on-a-chip models combine innovative computer techniques and advance tissue science to create tiny models of living organs, such as the heart, liver, or lung, on a transparent microchip.

Lung-on-a-Chip Breakthrough

In June 2010, researchers at the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University unveiled a living, breathing lung-on-a-chip. The microchip, which replicates a mouse’s lung structure, consists of a system of microfluidic channels imprinted into a rubber-like, clear plastic called polydimethylsiloxane (PDMS).

Researchers line the etched channels of the chip with the living cell tissues of rats or humans. The channels allow the chip to perform like an actual lung—transporting air, water, or other fluids.

The lung-on-a-chip includes a boundary between the air sacs and the lung’s capillaries. The chip breathes and mimics the inhalation of bacterial pathogens and potentially dangerous nanoparticles through the boundary and into the bloodstream.

The transparent polymer material allows researchers to use a high-resolution fluorescence microscopy to record real-time measurements of the inflammatory response once particulates enter the bloodstream.

Duplicates Medical Condition

Successfully replicating this action on a microchip enabled scientists to move on to the next phase of their research— reproducing a medical problem.

Several days ago, researchers at Wyss Institute released a paper on the progress they made in simulating the abnormal buildup of fluids in the lung’s air sacs.  The excess fluid causes a medical condition called pulmonary edema.

The lead scientist at Wyss, Geraldine Hamilton, Ph.D., states that the “lung-on-a-chip” technology includes cultured living human cells and reflects the effects of pulmonary edema, such as human oxygen transport, fluid barrier functions, and compound production.

Compound production allows the lung’s air sacs to open and close, the absorption of particulates, and inflammatory responses to bacteria and toxins, said Dr. Hamilton.

Wyss researcher plans to continue their studies and meet with drug companies to ascertain what other information they require to use the lung-on-a-chip technology as an alternative to the traditional animal models. The institution also has plans to initiate the study of organ-on-a-chip models for other organs, including the liver, kidney, and heart.

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