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The Top 3 Applications of Organ-on-a-chip

Organ-on-a-chip has been in the news lately due to its potential to make changes in the field of medicine, including research and pharmaceutics. First successfully developed in 2010 by the Wyss Institute at Harvard University, the chip has shown that it can be the base to remarkable research opportunities.

What is an Organ-on-a-chip?

Defined as a kind of artificial organ, an organ-on-a-chip is a cellular culture chip containing various channels that allow fluidity, activity, mechanical and physiological simulation of cells, which results in complete organ systems (the cells can be from either humans or animals). These complete organ systems are able to respond to external stimuli and factors. The chip is made of a transparent polymer that facilitates the observation and tracing process of the experiment or research being performed on it. According to the manufacturer, it is approximately the size of a computer memory stick. The applications of this chip are numerous. In this article, I mention only the top 3 applications.

Alveolus on a chip. Credit: Wyss Institute
Image credit: Wyss Institute

The top 3 applications of Organ-on-a-chip:

1- Personalized Medicine

One of the current concerns in health care quality is avoiding harm to the patient with injuries caused by medication. The organ-on-a-chip can help researchers and doctors plan a more efficient treatment of the patient by monitoring the effects of drugs on chips cultured with the patient’s cells and observe whether the drug is toxic or beneficial. This can be done by embedding a particular disease such as cancer, asthma, or an infection on the chip. The reaction caused by the drug can then be observed in real time.

2- Drug and Cosmetic Testing

When testing a drug or a cosmetic in development, most of the procedures involve animal testing. Then, it goes through human trials before being approved for the public use, which can take years depending on the product. Also, expenses can be high, not to mention the animals that are lost during experimentation and the unexpected reactions in humans. With the organ-on-a-chip, the drugs and cosmetics being developed can be tested directly on human models, which diminishes the development phase, reduces costs, and avoids negative side effects on animals and humans during trials.

3- Disease Etiology

Organ-on-a-chip can help researchers understand and further their knowledge when it comes to disease etiology, which examines the reasons behind a disease or condition. This can be done by applying external factors, such as tobacco and alcohol, that can negatively impact human health. External factors and the situational environment are extremely significant when trying to understand the cause of the disease and how it can be prevented or treated.

The organ-on-a-chip is currently being developed commercially by Emulate Inc. which had already started working with entities like the Michael J. Fox Foundation, aiding in their research and drug development. This year, the FDA also announced that it will be performing its own research with the company’s organ-on-a-chip to evaluate the product. It is clear that the possibilities of this chip are boundless.

An, Fan et al. “Organ-on-a-Chip: New Platform for Biological Analysis.” Analytical Chemistry Insights 10 (2015): 39–45. PMC. Web. 16 Sept. 2017.

Chan, Chung Yu et al. “Accelerating Drug Discovery via Organs-on-Chips.” Lab on a chip 13.24 (2013): 4697–4710. PMC. Web. 16 Sept. 2017.

Edited by: Kaylynn Crawford, Karen Yung, and Shreya Singireddy