Human tissue-on-chip is changing the way drugs are developed

13th January 2024
Sheryl Miles

In a move set to transform the realm of drug development, the University of Rochester has taken a significant leap in human tissue-on-chip technology.

This innovative approach, potentially reducing the need for animal testing, centres around small chips embedded with ultrathin membranes of human cells. Here, Electronic Specifier takes a look into the details of this innovation, its functionalities, benefits, and future prospects.

Innovative technology at the forefront

The Translational Centre for Barrier Microphysiological Systems, housed within the University of Rochester in New York State, serves as the epicentre for this revolutionary research. Funded by a substantial $7.5 million, five-year grant from the US National Institutes of Health, the Centre's primary objective revolves around developing drug development tools focused on an array of conditions including central nervous system disorders, fibrosis, musculoskeletal autoimmune disease, sepsis, and osteomyelitis.

What is tissue-on-chip?

Tissue-on-chip technology utilises microphysiological systems – essentially, small chips equipped with ultrathin membranes that mimic human cells. These are constructed using the modular, mass-producible µSim chips, a brainchild of Centre Director James McGrath. These chips represent a significant stride in replicating human tissue and disease patterns, offering a more realistic model for drug testing and development.

A future with reduced animal testing

One of the most compelling advantages of tissue-on-chip technology is its potential to diminish the reliance on animal testing. According to McGrath, employing µSim chips for drug trials can lead to fewer animal experiments. This is due to the chips' ability to closely mimic human cellular responses, thereby providing more relevant and accurate data for drug efficacy and safety. McGrath asserts that increased use of tissue chips, which replicate human cells and diseases, will reduce the need for animal testing in safety and efficacy trials.

Enhanced accuracy in drug development

These chips are not just a substitute for animal models but also enhance the precision and reliability of drug testing. As McGrath notes, the design of the chips aims to provide the throughput and reliable indications necessary for pharmaceutical companies to advance their drugs into clinical trials and eventual patient use.

Future prospects and FDA approval

The future of this technology is promising, with plans to integrate photonic biosensors crafted by Benjamin Miller, PhD into the chips. Securing FDA approval for these devices as drug development tools is essential. Once qualified by the FDA, they will be instrumental in conducting 'clinical trials on chip' using fully human models. This approval could greatly enhance the success rate of drug candidates in human clinical trials.

University of Rochester's pioneering research

The University of Rochester's foray into this domain is not an isolated endeavour. Its history is rich with contributions to human tissue-on-chip technologies. Studies have spanned from developing organ-on-a-chip systems for modelling musculoskeletal diseases to advancing techniques for real-time analysis of gene expression in tissues. These contributions have been pivotal in understanding cell-matrix interactions in microbial biofilms and human tissues, and in engineering fibre anisotropy within natural collagen hydrogels for tissue models.

The human tissue-on-chip technology spearheaded by the University of Rochester marks a transformative phase in drug development. With its ability to reduce animal testing and enhance the accuracy of drug trials, it stands as a beacon of innovation in medical research. As this technology continues to evolve and gain regulatory approval, it may well redefine the landscape of pharmaceutical testing, benefiting both the industry and society at large.

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