Editors' ChoiceBioengineering

Going Organic Yields a Super Model System

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Science Translational Medicine  30 Jun 2010:
Vol. 2, Issue 38, pp. 38ec104
DOI: 10.1126/scitranslmed.3001404

After decades and dollar figures that boggle the mind, many potential drugs are lost in translation, in part because some cell-based and animal models that are used to test new therapeutics don’t properly mimic human physiology. Artificial systems that recapitulate structural and mechanical features of living human organs have the potential to augment these more traditional model systems. This week in Science, Huh et al. describe an organ-on-a chip microdevice that mimics the alveolar-capillary interface of the human lung.

Currently available engineering technologies behind the making of microchips and microfluidic devices also can be used to create physiologically relevant cellular microenvironments ripe for the study of biochemical functions. However, until now, scientists hadn’t designed a microsystem that models the complex functions of living multi-tissue organs. To create their lung-on-a-chip, Huh et al. separated two microchannels with a membrane that was coated with either fibronectin or collagen and then cultured human endothelial and epithelial cells on opposite sides of the membrane. This model of the human alveolar-capillary interface—the key functional unit of the living lung—mimicked several organ-level functions, such as reactions to cytokine exposure and pathogen-stimulated inflammatory responses. Mechanical strain similar to breathing movements enhanced the acute toxic response of the lung mimic as well as cellular uptake of nanoparticles and their movement into the microvascular channel. The lung-on-a-chip might be an improved and cost-cutting replacement for pricey drug-screening and toxicology tests in imperfect animal models.

D. Huh et al., Reconstituting organ-level lung functions on a chip. Science 328, 1662-1668 (2010). [Abstract]

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