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Manufacture Technology and Equipment, Advanced Medicine

Mini Mimic

Failing to accurately replicate complex human biology and physiology in vitro or in animal studies is one reason for the high failure rate in drug development (also see Learning from Failure). Anthony Atala, Director of the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine, is passionate about an avenue of research that could help: body-on-a-chip technology. By growing a variety of human organoids on a chip, the technology is able to simulate multi-tissue pharmacodynamics. “This approach has the potential to reduce the need for testing in animals, which is expensive and slow,” says Atala. “Importantly, the results aren’t always applicable to people either.”

Atala’s lab has developed a platform with three integrated organs – heart, lung, and liver – and also demonstrated multi-tissue interaction (1). Where other organ-on-chip platforms may consist of cell aggregates to mimic an organ’s function, Atala’s team created 3D organoids that function more like the organs they imitate, including how they interact with each other. For example, propranolol should be metabolized by healthy livers to make it ineffective at blocking cardiac beta-receptors; with cell aggregates, this is not the case, but with 3D organoids, the rule does apply, according to the team.

Atala’s lab also aims to create tumor-on-a-chip platforms. “By using a patient’s own cancer cells to grow micro-tumors in the lab, we aim to predict how patients will respond to treatment. The model can also help predict where a patient’s tumor is likely to spread,” says Atala. “This could save patients time and money – but most importantly, aid in personalizing their treatment to make sure it works on their specific tumor.”

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  1. A Skardal et al., “Multi-tissue interactions in an integrated three-tissue organ-on-a-chip platform”, Sci Rep, 7, 8837 (2017). PMID: 28821762.
About the Author
William Aryitey

My fascination with science, gaming, and writing led to my studying biology at university, while simultaneously working as an online games journalist. After university, I travelled across Europe, working on a novel and developing a game, before finding my way to Texere. As Associate Editor, I’m evolving my loves of science and writing, while continuing to pursue my passion for gaming and creative writing in a personal capacity.

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