A “breathing”, “beating” chip the size of a small USB stick, may one day replace animals in testing the safety and efficacy of potential drugs and save at least a third of the time and half of the cost in drug development.

These “organs-on-chips” are currently being developed by USA’s National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences-National Institutes of Health (NCAT-NIH) in partnership with Food and Drug Administration and Defense Advanced Research Agency. This was revealed Dr. Danilo A. Tagle, NCAT’s associate director for special initiatives in a recent scientific symposium organized by the Philippine Genome Center (PGC).

Organs-on-chips are designed to mimic the mechanical and chemical function of organ systems (respiratory, circulatory, etc). In a lung-on-chip, for instance, human lung and blood vessel cells line each side of a flexible porous membrane that stretch and relax upon application of cyclic suction to mimic the breathing action of human lungs.

Dr. Tagle noted that the whole process of developing these chips involves many disciplines such as engineering, biology, microfabrication, and toxicology among others.

These organs-on-chips would address the inadequacy of animal models in pre-clinical trial stage. “Animal models are not really representatives or predictives of human condition,” Dr. Tagle pointed out.

NCAT scientists hope that through organs-on-chips, drug developers may be able to predict adverse events earlier to allow their prevention and mitigation, and be able to identify the population who will earlier respond to a new drug, thus accelerating drug development.

Currently, drug development process takes around 15 years or more. Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America 2005 data indicate that out of 10,000 potential compounds screened for drug development, only 11 compounds reach the clinical trial stage and only one gets approved for human use.

The project targets to build 10 chips for each organ system and link them together to simulate a whole body system.

The scientific forum is part of the launch of the PGC’s Bioinformatics Core Facility. PGC is a flagship project of University of the Philippines and Department of Science and Technology that aims to advance our capacity in genomic research. (S&T Media Service)

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Dr. Danilo Tagle, associate director for special initiatives of National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences, is one of the brains behind the “organs-on-chips” that may one day replace animals in pre-clinical trials to accelerate drug development. (S&T Media Service)

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