'Body-on-a-chip' system improves testing of new medications

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Scientists from Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine have developed a "body-on-a-chip," composed of micro-organs, for improved testing of new drugs. The micro-organ system is described in Scientific Reports.

Developing new medications costs more than $2 billion with a 90 percent failure rate. In response, researchers' “body-on-a-chip” system of putting multiple micro-organs together aims to provide a more comprehensive view of the body reaction to new medications.

"There is an urgent need for improved systems to accurately predict the effects of drugs, chemicals and biological agents on the human body," said Anthony Atala, MD, director of the institute and senior researcher on the multi-institution body on a chip project, funded by the Defense Threat Reduction Agency.

In the study, researchers explain how the organ structures produced from 3D-printed cells work like the human body to improve drug development. The body-chip comprises a heart, liver and lungs that are placed in a monitored system with a nutrient liquid keeping the organ alive. As new medications are introduced to the liquid flowing through the organs, researchers are able to see how not only one organ, but the entire body system reacts.

"If you screen a drug in livers only, for example, you're never going to see a potential side effect to other organs," said Aleks Skardal, PhD, assistant professor at Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine, who represented the multi-investigator team as lead author. "By using a multi-tissue organ-on-a-chip system, you can hopefully identify toxic side effects early in the drug development process, which could save lives as well as millions of dollars."