Organs-on-Chips: The Future of Drug Development

Sanyami Jain


Those of you who love technology may be familiar with computer chips and microchips. An array of electronic circuits on a compact, flat piece of silicon is known as a chip. However, do you know that we can create human organs on a chip?  This article talks about organs-on-chips and how they could soon transform the way scientists develop and test new drugs.

“Organs-on-Chips” or organ chips are small microfluidic devices with hollow channels lined by living human cells through which air, nutrients, blood and infection-causing bacteria could be pumped.  These chips are created in the same way computer chips are manufactured but instead of sending electrons through silicon, these chips send tiny amounts of chemicals through cells from the lungs, intestines, livers, kidneys, and hearts. The technology’s name, Microfluidics, comes from networks of almost unimaginably tiny tubes that allow the chips to mimic the structure and function of entire organs, making them an excellent testing ground for pharmaceuticals.

Organs-on-chip can successfully replace an organ’s three-dimensional structure

Cells are organised in the device to imitate important structural elements of the internal architecture of the organ, whether it is the renal tubules of a kidney, the alveoli of the lungs, or the veins of a liver. Additionally, the device can alternately stretch and relax to simulate the distortions that cells go through in our bodies. For instance, simulating human breathing patterns involves blowing air through a channel while applying a vacuum to generate a flexing action. Scientists can observe what’s happening inside organs on a microscale because of the translucent polymer that surrounds the chip’s channels. The prototypes can also be connected to create a network of organs that covers the entire body.

Applications of organs-on-chips in drug testing

Animals are used in both the development and testing of most pharmaceutical medications. Animal testing is not only unethical, but it frequently fails to predict how the human body will react to novel medications. Organ chips have the ability to completely transform the drug development process. Compared to conventional approaches, they are more accurate representations of human organs. The commonly used chemotherapy drug Cisplatin, which is known to cause kidney toxicity in humans but is not poisonous to animals, was tested using a kidney-on-a-chip by Wyss Institute researchers. They discovered that kidney cells on the chip were damaged by cisplatin but recovered after a few days of discontinuing the treatment. To examine responses that we cannot see in animal studies, organ chips can be utilised as a drug screening method.

However, due to existing limitations in satisfying the practical objectives of quick drug development and reliable preclinical evaluation, organ-on-a-chip systems remain side-lined in the pharmaceutical business. Long-term integration of novel concepts and methodologies into the organ-on-a-chip platform is intended to overcome biological and technical gaps across translational, preclinical, and clinical studies.