Hoping to speed up drug development and also make it safer and more cost-effective, researchers are at work creating what's been dubbed a "human body on a chip." (click below to read more)
Current drug-testing protocols home in on certain human cells before proceeding to animal studies and, finally, to cautious testing in human subjects. Scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology plan to include various types of cells from as many as 10 human organ systems—including circulatory, gastrointestinal, immune, and respiratory—and link them on a plastic chip laden with sensors. After a drug is processed by multiple kinds of liver cells, for example, micro-pumps will circulate the byproducts into the other body tissue. By using the chip in the early stages of lab study, researchers will get early warnings of when drugs are likely to cause "off-target" effects (positive or negative), the MIT team says. The project involves collaboration with several private companies and will receive $32 million in federal funds over the next five years.