Body Parts on a Chip

Link to TED Talk:

This TED Talk is particularly relevant to our Tuesday discussion regarding the accuracy and safety of using animal models to predict the effect(s) of a drug in humans. In this TED Talk, Dr. Geraldine Hamilton introduces a new model called Organs On A Chip. The chip recreates the basic functional units of an organ as well as the biochemical, functional, and mechanical environment normally experienced by the cells/organs in the body. For example, a recreated lung, in a nutshell, consist of a porous membrane, two fluidic channels (for blood and air flow), capillary cells, and lung cells. Additionally, the porous membrane of the lung is contracted and relaxed to mimic the mechanical strains that the lung cells experience during ventilation. To test various conditions – chemicals, bacteria, immune cells, viruses, etc can be added to the fluidic channels to monitor their interactions with the cells and one another. For example, to mimic a lung infection, bacterial cells were added to the air channel and immune cells were added to the blood channel; intriguingly, the immune cells crossed the porous membrane and phagocytosed the bacterial cells. Lastly, because Hamilton’s group has successfully recreated the liver, gut, heart, and bone marrow, these chips can be connected with fluid channels to further study the interaction of drugs/chemicals in the “Human on a Chip.”

I think Dr. Hamilton’s TED Talk is incredibly fascinating as it offers a novel, safe, and accurate model for testing drug interactions in the human body. Additionally, I believe this technology essentially carves the pathway for personalized medicine and pharmacogenomics as cells from specific individuals, populations, and age groups can be used to recreate organs. Furthermore, this model shows vast potential for studying the complex biochemical interactions between drugs and other chemicals/cells as a number of substances/cell types can be added to the fluid membranes to mimic an in vivo environment. Lastly, by simulating some of the complexities of a human body, the human on a chip shows potential for bypassing the unethical use of animal models.

3 thoughts on “Body Parts on a Chip

  1. This sounds like an amazing piece of technology but I do not think it could replace the use of living organisms in testing. No matter how close a computer simulation is, I do not think it can emulate how a living body would respond because the body is so intricately complex that the degree of intricacy could never be completely encompassed on a chip. Therefore, the chip sounds like a valuable piece of equipment that can be a huge supplement to the data we receive from animal models, but not necessarily replace those models.

  2. The implications for personalized medicine and altering the way we do clinical trials presented in this talk are really exciting. In one of the articles from my gene therapy post there was a comment made about the heterogeneity of humans, which can lead to unpredictable outcomes in a trial. I really appreciate that the developers of this technology have emphasized that every person is different and may respond differently to drugs. I am curious to see if this actually becomes a widespread thing, and if it really does have the potential to replace animal models. Right now I am somewhat skeptical like Kaitlin.

  3. I think this idea is completely fascinating, and I am more inclined to support this idea than to oppose it. Though I agree, there is a certain variability that can not be accounted for as the chip is not a living organism, it may be helpful to also consider the drawbacks of testing with an animal model: as there are irreconcilable differences in testing/data with animals and testing/data with humans. Though I absolutely can NOT discount the importance of animal model testing, I do think it may be important to weigh which models are more beneficial: is the fact that these chip tests are more efficient, and less costly, still reflecting a healthy degree of accuracy? If so, I believe I can understand using these systems increasingly so before moving on to human testing.

    Regardless, one thing I can be rather certain this chip model could be helpful is by developing medical countermeasures or formulating public health responses to potential outbreaks that otherwise do not occur naturally.

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