The US Department of Defense and Wake Forest University are developing miniature human organs with 3D printers to enable better drug testing.
The 2-inch “body on a chip” would be a testing ground for understanding how the human body might react to dangerous diseases, chemical warfare agents and new drugs intended to defend against biological or chemical attacks. This could speed drug development by replacing less ideal animal testing or testing done on human cells in petri dishes — and save time and money on drug candidates that fail in human clinical trials.
Tony Atala, director of the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine, has pioneered 3D printing methods that aim to build human organs with layer upon layer of cells. Their bioprinting methods lay down the cell layers along with artificial scaffolding to keep an organ’s structure intact as it takes shape — a technique that has allowed the group to make tiny, less complex versions of full-size human organs.
The tiny organs intended for the “body on a chip” project don’t represent fully functional hearts, livers and kidneys. Instead, they represent small chunks of human tissue from such organs connected together by a system of fluid channels that circulate blood substitute to keep the cells alive — all placed on a 2-inch chip with sensors to monitor everything.
Having an artificial circulatory system means researchers can introduce biological or chemical agents into the “blood” to see how it affects the different organs. The system’s sensors would measure the temperature, oxygen levels, pH and other factors affecting the “body on a chip.”