Researchers are always trying to find new ways to use technology to improve healthcare. This SmartCompliance Tech Find takes a look at how the bioengineers at the University of California in Berkeley have been working on a project that essentially uses a human tissue model on a silicon chip to screen drugs for their effectiveness and safety on the human body. This “organ-on-a-chip” is a huge advancement in the research of improving drug toxicity testing.
Currently, most health care drug screenings are tested on animals, which have high failure rates due to the biological differences between humans and other species. Not to mention the risks to the animals. Testing heart related drugs on animals consists of very costly experiments that hardly ever result in accurate and effective information, which can waste time and money.
According to Healy, the lead researcher on the project, “It takes about $5 billion on average to develop a drug, and 60 percent of that figure comes from upfront costs in the research and development phase.”
By using these heart models on a chip, researchers can accurately test the effectiveness of cardiovascular medication, which will speed up the process of developing drugs for market to help the people who need them.
So how does it work? The cardiac microphysiological system, or heart-on-a-chip, uses heart cells derived from adult stem cells, which can be molded to act like multiple types of heart tissue. They created the system so the “3-D structure would be comparable to the geometry and spacing of connective tissue fiber in a human heart.”
Anurag Mathur, a postdoctoral scholar in Healy’s lab, explained,”We designed this system so that it is dynamic; it replicates how tissue in our bodies actually gets exposed to nutrients and drugs.”
The heart-on-a-chip has the ability to model human genetic diseases and test an individual’s potential reaction to a drug. With this new healthcare technology, researchers can cut the time and cost of developing and testing new drugs exponentially while also receiving more accurate and influential results, which can help create more effective drugs.
Healy also said they are working on determining if the heart on a chip system can model multi-organ interactions. He stated, “Linking heart and liver tissue would allow us to determine whether a drug that initially works fine in the heart might later be metabolized by the liver in a way that would be toxic.”
This new technology opens many doors in the healthcare industry for drug testing, in addition to other medical risk management systems.