When Outliers read that a group of Harvard University researchers had created a living, breathing lung-on-a-chip, all we could think was movie script. We can see the tale now: Committed scientists use human tissue and computer technology to develop the world’s first cyborg organ. Years later, cyborgs are roaming the streets of our cities and the terrain of our countryside.
Researchers at Harvard’s Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering no doubt had something a little less Hollywood in mind when they used a microchip and human lung and blood vessel cells to create the miniature lung-on-a-chip, which is about the size of a rubber eraser. But if the invention does what the scientists hope, their use of the futuristic technology could result in findings that revolutionize medical research.
Researchers plan to use the lung-on-a-chip to test the effects of environmental toxins and the absorption, safety and efficacy of therapeutic drugs. If successful, the technology will not only give scientists a more accurate assessment than current research tools offer of how a drug will work in humans, but also it could shave millions of dollars off research costs.
“The ability of the lung-on-a-chip device to predict absorption of airborne nanoparticles and mimic the inflammatory response triggered by microbial pathogens provides proof-of-principle for the concept that organs-on-chips could replace many animal studies in the future,” Donald Ingber, senior author of a study of the invention, says in a news release. The research appears in the June 25 issue of the journal Science.