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Body on a Chip

A new body-on-a-chip device can hold several different types of human cells and could help scientists quickly and accurately test the intended and unintended effects of drugs. Image credit: Hesperos

Over the last 20 years microfluidics has made possible to create micro-laboratories where molecules can interact in predefined stages, like writing and executing a program with a computer consisting of tiny reservoirs connected by pipes. This evolution led to the development of organ on a chip easing the testing of drugs.

One of the problem facing pharma in their search for effective drugs is to get the global picture. It is not enough that a drug “works” it should do so without negatively affecting other aspects of the living being. A typical situation is that a drug can be effective in fighting a specific disease but then once it gets processed by the body and excreted it can affect adversely the liver and the kidneys. Actually the effect of a drug may involve several organs and it is essential to evaluate its systemic effect.

This is what pharmas do every day through lenghty (and costly) trials first in labs, then on animals and eventually with clinical trials. This is where this news of a body on a chip comes to play.

Extending current technologies of organ on a chip Hesperos, a US Orlando based company, has been able to create a full body on a chip, actually a microfluidic lab that can manage up to 5 organs. This allows the testing of the effect of a drug in a lab condition that mimics real life situation. Notice the difference between having five separate organ on a chip and having those five organs on the same chip. In this latter situation ir becomes possible to observe the dynamics in the interaction among the different organs. Each micro organ is created by using cells coming from that organ and the micropipes connecting the various organs can be operated in such a way to mimic the dilution of the drug in body fluids and each organ interact with this dilution in parallel or in sequence, e.g. an organ can be exposed to the drug and then to the metabolic results following the processing of the drug by liver cells and so on.

So far the body on a lab is made up by cells harvested from a donor but in perspective the goal is to use the cells of the patient to test on that specific patient the effect of the drug. This is particularly important fighting cancer where there is lot of specificity and one drug does not fit them all.

In the next decade this individualisation trend will become more and more mainstream along with the digitalisation of health care (digital transformation).

About Roberto Saracco

Roberto Saracco fell in love with technology and its implications long time ago. His background is in math and computer science. Until April 2017 he led the EIT Digital Italian Node and then was head of the Industrial Doctoral School of EIT Digital up to September 2018. Previously, up to December 2011 he was the Director of the Telecom Italia Future Centre in Venice, looking at the interplay of technology evolution, economics and society. At the turn of the century he led a World Bank-Infodev project to stimulate entrepreneurship in Latin America. He is a senior member of IEEE where he leads the Industry Advisory Board within the Future Directions Committee and co-chairs the Digital Reality Initiative. He teaches a Master course on Technology Forecasting and Market impact at the University of Trento. He has published over 100 papers in journals and magazines and 14 books.