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BBC Future

Horizons

Organs on chips: How to make a microchip that breathes

Device that can mimic tissues like lungs or heart aims to be a faster, cheaper way to develop drugs without the need for animal testing.

Drug testing is a costly business. Before any candidate can be tested in humans it has to be tested on animals to see if the active chemicals both work as intended and don’t cause any side effects. There are efforts to reduce the number of animals used in drug testing, but an accurate and reliable alternative would be far more desirable.

One answer is being developed at the Wyss Institute at Harvard University. Researchers are creating microchips that mimic the structure and function of living organs, such as the lung and heart. Each so-called “organ-on-chip” is composed of a clear flexible polymer that contains hollow microfluidic channels lined by living human cells.

The Horizons team visited the Wyss Institute team, where Dumeetha Luthra is amazed by the team's cellular reconstruction of a human lung on a microchip.

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