Harvard, AstraZeneca partner to replace animal testing with 'organs-on-chips'

As Big Pharma scales back R&D spending, especially in the area of preclinical research, companies are looking for new ways to save money and test drugs more effectively and cost-efficiently.

Tissue chips that mimic the biological function of organs, called "organs-on-chips" and developed at Harvard University's Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering, may be able to provide drug developers at AstraZeneca ($AZN) with an alternative to animal testing.

AstraZeneca has partnered with the Wyss Institute to use its organs-on-chips technology--miniature human organs made of a clear, flexible polymer that contain tiny tubes lined with living human cells--to help improve the way it tests drugs for humans. The chips are translucent, which could provide an insight into the inner workings of both animal and human organs.

"This collaboration with AstraZeneca will help us to validate this approach as a potential alternative to animal testing by carrying out direct comparisons between organ chips containing cells from animals versus humans in organ-mimicking environments," Wyss Founding Director Dr. Don Ingber said in a statement. "If successful, this effort should lead to ways to streamline the drug development process and more effectively predict safety of drugs and chemicals in humans."

Wyss researchers have created chips that mimic the lung, heart and intestine. They are working to build 10 different human organs-on-chips in total and link them together to replicate the physiology of a whole human body.

AstraZeneca and Wyss scientists will use the technology to develop new animal versions of the chips, which will be used alongside human models to test the safety of investigational drugs. There is a huge need for alternative methods to replace traditional animal models since animal tests do not always accurately predict how humans will react to a new medication. Safety data from animal tests is needed before drug developers can get the green light for testing in humans, so more reliable preclinical models could lead to better drugs for humans. Researchers hope the chips could eventually replace animal testing altogether.

- here's the release