The researchers used microfluidic technology - the science of manipulating and controlling fluids inside micrometer-sized channels - to create a platform that connects engineered tissues from up to ten organs. The platform allowed the researchers to accurately replicate human organ interactions for weeks at a time, allowing them to measure the effects of drugs on different parts of the body, and offering the potential to reveal whether a drug that is intended to treat one organ will have adverse effects on another.
"Some of these effects are really hard to predict from animal models because the situations that lead to them are idiosyncratic," says Linda Griffith, the School of Engineering Professor of Teaching Innovation, a professor of biological engineering and mechanical engineering, and one of the senior authors of a study on the research. "With our chip, you can distribute a drug and then look for the effects on other tissues, and measure the exposure and how it is metabolized."
According to the researchers, these chips could also be used to evaluate drugs that are difficult to test thoroughly in animals, such as antibody drugs and other immunotherapies, which are designed to interact with the human immune system. In addition, drugs that work in animals often fail in human trials.
"Animals do not represent people in all the facets that you need to develop drugs and understand disease," says Griffith. "That is becoming more and more apparent as we look across all kinds of drugs."
Other complications can occur from a variety of factors, including individual patient variability, genetic background, environmental influences, lifestyles, and other drugs they may be taking. Often, say the researchers, problems with a drug don't become apparent until after it goes on the market.
To offer a way to model potential drug effects more accurately and rapidly, the researchers chose to pursue the technology they call a "physiome on a chip." This required a platform that