Emulate Inc. has developed transparent chips the size of AA batteries that mimic different body organs. Initially, these organ chips are supposed to help researchers learn how drugs affect certain organs of the body. Eventually, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) hopes these chips can also be used to determine the safety of different products like cosmetics, dietary supplements and certain foods. These developments may mean an end to animal testing in the future.
Work on these organ chips began in 2012, with institutions like the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) collaborating with one another. Now that the FDA has signed up as part of the project, product testing on animals might be nearing its end.
FDA’s work will be done under a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA). As reported by Endpoints News, Emulate President and CSO Geraldine Hamilton said: “The focus is to assess the system’s capability, putting the chips, software and instrumentation in the hands of FDA researchers, so they can better understand its potential in surpassing animals for this kind of work.”
Each organ chip is made from a flexible polymer material filled with tiny channels that are lined with thousands of living human cells and tissues from the organ being studied, and is designed to mirror the natural forces experienced by the organ it represents. For example, a liver chip can emulate the process of reproducing blood in the liver and a lung chip can mimic the process of breathing.
The first chip that will be used is a liver chip, and will possibly be followed by kidney, lung and intestine chips.
By placing the chip in an instrument where the environment inside the human body is recreated, the researchers can deliver specific compounds into the chip and study how the ‘organ’ responds. The company says that it might also be possible to connect multiple organ chips to determine how chemical compounds affect entire organ systems.
Ultimately, the objective is to predict or anticipate how an organ will react when it is exposed to potential hazards in foods, dietary supplements and cosmetics. And hopefully, the results will be more accurate than those derived from existing test methods like animal testing and cell culturing.
As explained in a blog post by Suzanne Fitzpatrick, Ph. D. — Senior Advisor for Toxicology in FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition — the chip can be used to ‘see how the body processes an ingredient in a dietary supplement or a chemical in a cosmetic and how a toxin or combination of toxins affects cells’. The information gathered from this can then be used to help assess and evaluate the risks of certain products to a person’s health. And it will ideally be more precise than what can be derived from animal tests because products that are tested safely on animals do not necessarily guarantee that the same will be safe for humans too.