Body-on-a-chip mimics how organs, cancer cells react to drugs | Science News


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This body-on-a-chip mimics how organs and cancer cells react to drugs

Five chambers house different tissues, connected by channels that help simulate blood flow

2:00pm, June 19, 2019

BIOLOGICAL MICROCOSM  A new body-on-a-chip device can hold several different types of human cells and could help scientists quickly and accurately test the intended and unintended effects of drugs.

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A new body-on-a-chip system could provide a more holistic view of drug effects than other devices of its kind.

Unlike traditional organ-on-a-chip devices that simulate a single organ (SN: 3/17/18, p. 13), the new setup contains five chambers to house different types of cells, connected by channels that circulate a nutrient solution to mimic blood flow. This is the first organ-on-a-chip scheme to examine how a drug and its chemical by-products affect target cells and other tissue at the same time, researchers report online June 19 in Science Translational Medicine.

“Until now, to be able to [measure] efficacy and toxicity in the same system, you had to go into an animal,” says James Hickman, a bioengineer at the biotech firm Hesperos, Inc., in Orlando, Fla., which developed the chip. A body-on-a-chip system with human cells could gauge drug effects more accurately, Hickman says. Using a patient’s own cells in the device may also allow scientists to test different drugs or drug combinations to determine the best treatment for that specific person.

Hickman and colleagues tested their body-on-a-chip by measuring the effects of different drugs on cancer cells, as well as heart and liver cells. In a device with bone marrow cancer cells, the drugs imatinib and diclofenac both curbed cancer-cell growth, but diclofenac also killed liver cells. In another setup, the drug tamoxifen knocked out breast cancer cells, but worked against drug-resistant vulva cancer cells only when administered with the blood pressure medication verapamil.

These experiments confirmed findings from past clinical trials of anticancer medications. That indicates that a body-on-a-chip can expose the helpful and harmful effects of drugs — and help fine-tune dosages — no test subject necessary.


C.W. McAleer et al. Multi-organ system for the evaluation of efficacy and off-target toxicity of anticancer therapeutics. Science Translational Medicine. Published online June 19, 2019. doi:10.1126/scitranslmed.aav1386.

Further Reading

M. Temming. A fake organ mimics what happens in the blink of an eye. Science News. Vol. 193, March 17, 2018, p. 13.

T.H. Saey. Mini brains may wrinkle and fold just like oursScience News. Vol. 193, January 20, 2018, p. 14.

L. Sanders. Tiny human almost-brains made in labScience News. Vol. 184, September 21, 2013, p. 5.

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