Nov 5 - Researchers at Harvard's Wyss Institute are developing technology to link computer chip-sized human organs together. They hope to create an artificial human body that will provide pharmaceutical companies with a powerful new tool to develop and test new drugs. Ben Gruber has more.
Chris Hinojosa just finished building human guts. It may not look like guts but the tiny device contains the organ's cells, fitted tightly together to resemble a computer chip. He then loads the device into the farm. (SOUNDBITE) (English) DON INGBER, DIRECTOR, WYSS INSTITUTE, SAYING: "We actually have a farm, an organ farm where you culture the organs for a time, just grow them up and to make sure that they're functional and then the idea is to take your DVD with a living human organ on it and you plug it into the 'Interrogator' which will allow you to look in and have a visual window on the working of the human organ." That is Don Ingber, the director of the Harvard's Wyss Institute. He says his team has spent the past several years developing all types of human organs. And while his chip based micro-fluidic systems aren't full sized, they can mimic the way real organs work. Geraldine Hamilton, a senior staff scientist at the Institute, says the scientists are now building the first prototypes of a machine that will link these chips together and re-create the complex network of a human body. She says the goal is to revolutionize the way new drugs are tested. (SOUNDBITE) (English) GERALDINE HAMILTON, SENIOR STAFF SCIENTIST, WYSS INSTITUTE, SAYING: "People in the pharmaceutical industry, that will want to look at the safety of drugs for example, can take the chip, put it in that cartridge, put it in that instrument and run the test. And that instrument will allow you to link one, two, or even ten chips together." And linking the chips to form a complete network is the ultimate goal. Ingber says the machine will be equipped with an array of sensors and microscopic cameras that will show how human cells from different organs react to developmental drugs in real time. (SOUNDBITE) (English) DON INGBER, DIRECTOR, WYSS INSTITUTE, SAYING: "We can make lung chips breath rhythmically and we can make gut chips undergo peristalsis and we are beginning to link them together so that you can see how a drug passes through, let's say aerosol delivery to lung and how it may have toxicity on the heart or be metabolized by the liver so we are beginning to get the first prototypes of instruments that can automate it." Geraldine Hamilton says it will take a lot more research before these machines are ready to test new drugs. But she says that in the mean time, organs on chips can provide clues on ways to treat the human body in dangerous situations. She uses radiation exposure as example. (SOUNDBITE) (English) GERALDINE HAMILTON, SENIOR STAFF SCIENTIST, WYSS INSTITUTE, SAYING: "We can't really ask for volunteers in a clinical trial..'let's treat you with radiation and then see if the agent I actually give you fixes that problem.' We can't really do that. So we know from a lot of the data that has been collected that in many cases animal models don't predict. So for that the human organs on chip can already provide us information that we currently don't have." …information, Hamilton says, that will ultimately save human lives.