“Human on a Chip” program will soon make animal testing redundant

By : |July 25, 2016 0
Image courtesy llnl.gov

Animal lovers and right activists have long fought for this and seems like their actions might soon pay off. Researchers at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, California are testing technology that replicates vital human tissues on microchips and could soon make the need for animals like rats, mice, snakes etc. for testing products and develop drugs in laboratories around the world redundant.

The “Human on a Chip” program shifts the experiments from living animals to the lab by replicating cells of human organs and tissues, exposing them to chemicals and using electrical signals to measure the response.

While labs and university researchers in other parts of the United States are using similar technology to test different organs of the body, scientists at Lawrence Livermore are focusing on four vital body functions: the central nervous system, peripheral nervous system, blood-brain barrier, and heart.

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The chips give crucial inferences to the scientists to measure how certain body parts react to caffeine, heart medicine or other more dangerous toxins. In one early experiment, scientists applied capsaicin, the chemical that makes peppers hot, to cells of the peripheral nervous system and was able to measure a response.

Noticeably, in some cases, the cells can survive and function on chips for several weeks; so many different kinds of experiments can be done without any need for human or animal test subjects.

The laboratory gets its human tissues from AnaBios Corp., a San Diego company, derived from organ donors, and unlike tissues grown from stem cells, these are mature and can provide a more reliable response to stimuli.

Though still under testing and not widely used, the process, according to research team also has the ability to speed up development of medical countermeasures to toxins and provide more accurate data than animal testing does.

“Animal testing can be more complicated and costly, whereas these chips can be much more reliable,” says Kris Kulp, a lab scientist who is part of the project.

According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, 9 out of 10 drugs that pass animal tests fail in humans because they don’t work or are dangerous. With this acknowledgment, various agencies, such as the Environmental Protection Agency and National Institutes of Health, have made efforts to reduce the use of animal testing.

Last month, President Barack Obama signed an updated Toxic Substances Control Act, originally approved in 1976, that includes a provision calling for restrictions on animal testing.

“We are familiar with this new direction that science is taking, and we’re very excited about the possibility that it can replace animals in chemical testing, drug development, and other areas,” said Kathy Guillermo, vice president of laboratory investigations for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

Nearly 100 million animals are killed in experiments each year in the United States, according to the Laboratory Animal Resource Center at the University of California at San Francisco.

Lawrence Livermore Lab is spending nearly $2 million a year on the project, called iCHIP (in-vitro Chip-based Human Investigational Platform), which is now in its third year, said Elizabeth Wheeler, the principal investigator.

She said the long-term goal is to collaborate with other research centers studying the technology in other parts of the body.

“We hope to integrate them all together and re-create the human body and the reactions it has to link multiple chips to capture interactions between different organs,” Wheeler said.

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