Artificial Human Tissues Could Replace Animals in Drug Tests
Kyle Maxey posted on March 28, 2014 |

los alamos, tissue, artificial, drugs, organs, Animal testing has long been a thorn in the side of the pharmaceutical industry. Not only is the process anathema to medical ethics, it ruffles the feathers of many humans. To eliminate this conundrum, researchers at Los Alamos Laboratory are developing a miniaturized set of living human organs to be used for toxicity screening.

Called the Advanced Tissue-Engineered Human Ectypal Network Analyzer (ATHENA), the system is essentially a living kit of functional, cellphone-sized organs. Interconnected by artificial arteries and veins, ATHENA will consist of tissues that behave exactly like a human’s heart, lungs, kidney and liver. With this system researchers hope to bring about new methods for preliminary drug testing while possibly reducing the cost and time of pharmaceutical development. ATHENA would also give scientists a more accurate view of how drugs and chemicals react with human tissues, alerting researchers to potential toxic concoctions.

“By creating a holistic dynamic system that more realistically mimics the human physiological environment than static human cells in a dish, we can understand chemical effects on human organs as never before,” said Rashi Iyer, a senior scientist at Los Alamos. “The ultimate goal is to build a lung that breathes, a heart that pumps, a liver that metabolizes and a kidney that excretes -– all connected by a tubing infrastructure much akin to the way blood vessels connect our organs.”

While some may scoff that a system like ATHENA will never be created, researchers at Los Alamos say they’re closer than many would believe to making the biological testing ground a reality. In fact, Iyer’s team plans to connect ATHENA’s heart and liver this winter, with its lungs and kidney joining the fold shortly thereafter.

While ATHENA certainly isn’t a human itself, one has to wonder whether the creation of such a system won’t lead to even greater ethical quandaries. For now, however, the development of the system continues, and in the near future the drugs you and I take might just be safeguarded by a set of disembodied human organs.

Image Courtesy of Los Alamos National Lab

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