Engineers at Harvard University’s Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering have created an award-winning plastic chip that may effectively end animal testing around the globe. The chip — about the size of a flash memory drive — contains small amounts of living human cells that allow scientists and researchers to monitor how our biological processes respond to various stimuli, chemical changes and drug mixtures.
Mother Nature Network reports this chip has the potential to save millions of both human and animal lives. A chip could provide testers with a way to deliver products to market faster since it requires fewer years of experimentation. The chips also curb the need for animal testing, as scientists can see how human cells, rather than those of animals, react to various drugs and chemicals.
The technology, which still has years to go before arriving on the commercial market, could save the lives of 115 million animals that undergo testing every year. Animal rights activists maintain that experimental trials result in cruel conditions for animals, and that such testing is unnecessary because animal cells react differently to chemicals than human cells. Pharmaceutical companies even admit to very high failure rates with drugs due to animal trials that do not translate well to human ones.
Organs grown on the chips, including designs that mimic the human lungs, liver and gut, [won the prestigious Designs of the Year award in 2015] from the London Design Museum. The award goes to the most transformative design with the potential to change the lives of humans for the better. The museum noted the chips’ potential to revolutionize the pharmaceutical and health care industries.
Inspired by computer microchips, the chip consists of several layers of living human cells embedded in see-through plastic — that mimic human organs on the cellular level. For example, this
shows how a lung chip can deliver bacteria on one side of a thin membrane while also demonstrating how white blood cells react on the other side of the membrane. Small holes allow researchers to deliver small amounts of drugs to see how the human body responds, and the entire process shows up under the watchful eyes of humans gazing at the chip through the sharp lens of a microscope in real time.
Researchers note that consumer product testing, cosmetics design and environmental toxin studies done within the organs grown on chips can produce more accurate results than animal testing. Scientists also note the ethics involved in reducing or even eliminating animal testing altogether if these chips go to market successfully. We look forward to hearing more about this breakthrough technology.
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