Harvard Scientists Create Organs-on-a-Chip
Tom Spendlove posted on December 06, 2013 |
Harvard scientists are simulating organs to test drugs more efficiently outside the body.

Geraldine Hamilton says that the current drug development cycle is too costly, takes too long, and fails more often than it succeeds. Diseases go untreated and patients who need therapy are not receiving any relief. In her TED Talk Body parts on a chip she discusses her method to test drugs outside the body.

Hamilton is attacking the problem of drug testing before human clinical trials. Testing human cells in petri dishes don't give ideal results because the environment is totally different than a human body. Animal testing often fail to predict what will happen in humans. Her solution is to use human cells and keep them happy outside the human body.


With her colleagues at Harvard's Wyss Institute Geraldine has developed the Organ-on-a-Chip. The chip's goal is to represent the function and mechanical strain that is placed on cells in an environment using actual human cells.

Inspiration comes from the manufacture of computer chips to build the chips. Three channels exist within the chips, beginning with a thing membrane in the center that holds the human cells. Mechanical forces can then be applied to the outside of these cells to simulate tension, compression, temperature changes or fatigue. Channels exist above and below the cell to circulate air and blood.

Hamilton shows an example of white blood cells attacking bacteria in a simulated lung using computer graphics and then shows the process live inside a chip environment. Current projects include simulated livers, guts, lungs, hearts and bone marrow. Each chip is different to simulate the function and constraints of the individual organ.

One future goal is to be able to connect all of these organs together and simulate a Human-on-a-Chip. Discovering a lung side effect when testing a heart medicine will be invaluable if it happens before human clinical testing. Makeup, chemical cleaners, biohazard combat and drug delivery can all benefit from full system testing.


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