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Animal Testing Could Come To An End With 3D-Printed Chip That Shows Body’s Reaction To Drugs 

Researchers at the University of Edinburgh have designed a new “body-on-chip” that perfectly mimics how medicine travels through the body, which could eliminate the need for animal testing when it comes to drug and medication development. 

Typically thousands of animals are used every year around the world during the early stages of developing medicines, however, many of these drugs don’t end up showing any clinical benefit. 

According to reports from The Guardian, the device is the first of its kind, and was made using a 3D printer. The chip itself has five compartments that replicate the human heart, liver, lungs, kidney, and brain. Each compartment is connected by little channels that are meant to replicate the human circulatory system. 

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Liam Carr is the inventor of this device, and he explained that the plastic chip uses positron emission tomography (PET) scanning to produce 3D images showing what is going on inside the replicated “organs.”

“The PET imagery is what allows us to ensure the flow of new drugs being tested is even,” Carr explained

“This device is the first to be designed specifically for measuring drug distribution, with an even flow paired with organ compartments that are large enough to sample drug uptake for mathematical modeling. Essentially, allowing us to see where a new drug goes in the body and how long it stays there, without having to use a human or animal to test it.”

“The platform is completely flexible and can be a valuable tool to investigate various human diseases, such as cancer, cardiovascular diseases, neurodegenerative diseases and immune diseases. Because of this flexibility, the uses are bound only by the availability of these cell models, and the scientific questions we can think of,” Carr stated.

“For example, we could have a fatty liver disease model in the device and use this to see how having a diseased liver affects other organs such as the heart, brain, kidneys, etc, and could even combine multiple diseased cell models to see how diseases can interfere with each other.”

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Dr. Adriana Tavares of Edinburgh’s Center for Cardiovascular Science is Carr’s supervisor, and she explained that by linking the five organs together in this device, scientists can effectively study how new drugs may impact a patient’s entire body. 

“This is a really important area of medical research, as we continuously learn about how diseases traditionally perceived to be restricted to an organ or system can have diverse effects across other distant organs or different interconnected systems.”

“Devices such as the body-on-chip platform are essential to unravel the mechanisms underlying systemic effects of local diseases as well as investigate off-target effects of drugs, which might be therapeutically useful or detrimental,” she added

“This device shows really strong potential to reduce the large number of animals that are used worldwide for testing drugs and other compounds, particularly in the early stages, where only 2% of compounds progress through the discovery pipeline.”

“This non-animal approach could significantly reduce cost of drug discovery, accelerate translation of drugs into the clinic, and improve our understanding of systemic effects of human diseases, by using models that are more representative to human biology than animal models,” she concluded.