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Alternative methods, Health

27 - 02 - 2015

Our organs on a microchip?

Alternative methods to animal research are under development. The culture of human cells on microcarriers (also called chips) could soon help define the effectiveness and the toxicity of a substance for a reduced cost and at an early stage. The conventional in vitro methods would be complemented and tests on animals optimized. 



The revolution of microfluidics

In the laboratory, microfluidics is “the art of manipulating small volumes of liquid”. It enables us to study and master the fluids at the micro-liter scale – one millionth (10-6) of a liter. Since most biological reactions happen in water, the fields of application of microfluidics are extremely varied (DNA analysis, testing of new drugs).


This miniaturization is also present in nature: “The tree is an impressive microfluidic system. It evenly drains the sap towards thousands of leaves, thanks to a network of millions of tiny capillaries whose diameter range from hundreds of microns to about thirty nanometers.” Explains the article from the engineering school ParisTech. 


A lab on a chip


Thanks to microfluidics, chips have become real life “pocket labs”. Here are two examples :


-          A “lung on a chip” was developed at the Wyss Institute of Harvard. It reproduces the structural, functional and mechanical properties of a breathing lung (see video above).


-          German researchers have arranged cells from different organs of the body on a chip. This “mini-organism” artificially replicates the human circulatory system.


Reduce animal testing

The goal is to use these biochips to test drugs and new molecules. Thus these ‘labs on a chip’ could reduce the cost, time and numbers of animals needed to develop new treatments. To achieve these results, chip technology still needs to be improved and validated.