New “human on a chip” technology could change drug testing as we know it

New “human on a chip” technology could change drug testing as we know it

New technology has allowed researchers to revolutionise drug and cosmetic testing. The technology, which is one of a kind and known as “human on a chip” biotechnology was developed in Florida.

The chip was developed by Hesperos Inc, pharmaceutical giant Roche, the University of Central Florida as well as L’Oréal research.

The findings were published in the Science Translation Medicine journal. 

How it works

Scientists are using human cells that are generally sourced from induced stem cells.

Scientists are then using the cells to build different organ components and then connect them on a single transparent chip, which emulates how the organs connect in the body.

They “treat each compartment as a chemical reactor, absorber, or what’s called a ‘holding tank’ in chemical engineering,” Michael Shuler, Hesperos co-founder, chief executive officer, and president who is also a professor emeritus at Cornell University in New York, told Healthline.

“We can sample from reservoirs in the system just like you would take a blood sample from your body and run it through an analytical procedure,” explains Shuler.

The chip monitors and assesses acute drug treatments which can span from a few hours to days. It can also monitor chronic drug treatments for up to 28 days.

The chip also can test cancer treatments, which was the whole idea.

“The whole idea is ‘Can we do this in a way which makes the drug development process more effective and cost-effective?’” Shuler said.

“Our ability to do clinical trials is more or less fixed, so anytime we run clinical trials and compounds fail, it means there’s a compound that may have succeeded that didn’t get a chance to go into clinical trials,” says Shuler.

“This [technology] helps to make a better argument or guess about which compounds will be more effective in clinical trials,” he added.

“It pays, more importantly, dividends to society because … you get more useful drugs for society with the same investment.” 

However, there are concerns. Despite the “human on a chip” technology being progressive, there are questions as to how much longer outcomes will take to be assessed.

Dr. Razelle Kurzrock, chief of the division of Hematology and Oncology at the University of California San Diego School of Medicine and director of the Center for Personalized Cancer Therapy and Moores Cancer Center’s Clinical Trials Office told Healthline her concerns.

“The extent to which the company can produce custom models for individual patients is crucial,” Kurzrock explained.

“If [human on a chip] could be done for individual patients, which I see as significantly more challenging, that could be genuinely transformative if prediction of toxicity and efficacy were accurate.”