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Mini-organism in a chip to make animal testing obsolete?

05 Feb 2015

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"The concept of combining various cell samples with fluid channels has been around for a long while. This system, however, has two distinct advantages over previous approaches: Thanks to the expertise of the engineers at IWS, the microfluidic system is extremely miniaturised. The pump is capable of channelling the tiniest flow rates of less than 0.5µl/s through the channels. This means the relationship between cell sample and liquid media is authentic," Sonntag said. If this ratio is incorrect, then that will lead to imprecise results. Secondly, the microfluidic system ensures there is a constant flow of liquid cell culture medium; like human blood, the medium flows continuously through the entire circuit on the chip. That is important, since some types of calls can only present euthentic "body-like" morphology if they are stimulated by a current or flow.

In order to test the effect of a substance, the scientists initially load various cell samples onto the chip. Then the active ingredient to be tested is added via the medium for the cell sample of that organ at which the substance would be introduced into the blood stream in the real human body. They include the cells of the intestinal lining, for instance. The same metabolic responses are then processed on the chip just like in the human organism. "We use cell samples from various sexes and ethnicities. We can set variations in body size and weight as desired on a scale of 1:100,000," indicated Sonntag. The scientists can see exactly which metabolic products form within specific cell samples, and whether and which effects they have on other cells. The results are ultimately even more predictive than those of animal-based experiments. Because the effects on the body of a mouse or a rat cannot be applied to human beings at a 1:1 ratio.

For some companies, such as those in the cosmetics industry, the artificial organism is already in use. In addition to research on active ingredients, there is also another potential application. "We know today that certain kidney cells, the endothelial cells, play a key role in almost every kidney disease. With the in vitro tests to date, there was always the problem that the endothelial cells worked only under current. Here, our multi-organ chip could offer a test environment that would allow you to observe how cells regenerate following an injury," stated Sonntag.

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