Humans on a chip – the future for R&D

Medicines Discovery Catapult, the Medical Research Council (MRC) Centre for Drug Safety Science (CDSS), and the National Centre for the Replacement Refinement & Reduction of Animals in Research (NC3Rs), are combining forces to bring together experts from the field of organ on a chip technology (OOAC) at the Sensor City in Liverpool.

OOAC technology has the potential to revolutionise the way we approach drug discovery. OOAC systems are the creation of representative 3D human organs linked by microfluidic channels on chips the size of USB sticks. It is possible to re-create functionality from many organs including lungs, kidneys, heart, brain and skin. Although still in its infancy, the technology is widely used and researched in the US and across Europe. Today marks a key opportunity for the UK’s scientific community.

As organs interact as a system to perform optimally, true tests of efficacy or toxicity of compounds will not be possible until researchers are able to understand these complex interactions between organs. The challenge and opportunity for the UK is to combine multiple organs on a chip and ultimately create a human on a chip that would allow scientists to watch how the entire body responds to a drug.

The possibilities of OOAC technology are endless; one day OOAC could support the advancement of personalised medicine by imitating an individual’s unique biology – you on a chip.

The impact will save the UK drug discovery community vital time, resource and money, as well as significantly reducing the number of failed trials and disappointments further down the line.

Professor Sir Munir Pirmohamed of the MRC Centre for Drug Safety Studies at the University of Liverpool says “The OOAC technology will provide human data not currently available until Phase I and Phase II clinical trials that is crucial for scientists to understand both harmful and beneficial effects of drugs.”

Dr Anthony Holmes, Director of Science and Technology at the National Centre for the Replacement Refinement & Reduction of Animals in Research, says “Our aim is to drive scientific and technological developments that replace, reduce or refine the use of animals in research and provide researchers with tools more reflective of human biology for basic and applied science”