Chicago: In a breakthrough research, US scientists have begun testing drugs on so-called lung-on-a-chip, which though looks nothing like a human organ, mimics the essential functions of a healthy lung.
The technology can aid medical research and drug development, and may reduce the need for animal testing in the future.
The flexible piece of silicone rubber about the size of a memory stick has a porous matrix in the middle that host lung cells on one side, where air flows over them, and capillary cells on the other side, where a blood-like fluid flows over them. Vacuum pumps applied on both sides of the chip mimic the way human tissue stretches during breathing.
The team from Harvard`s Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering is putting its artificial lung to the test, using the device to recreate pulmonary edema, a potentially deadly condition characterized by fluid and blood clots in the lungs, and then treating it with an experimental drug from GlaxoSmithKline.
For the study, the team injected interleukin-2 or IL-2, a cancer drug that can cause pulmonary edema into the blood channel of the device. The drug caused fluid to start leaking across the membrane, reducing the amount of volume of air in the other channel. Blood plasma crossed into the air channels and started to clot. On turning on the vacuum to simulate breathing, fluid leakage increased, suggesting that breathing may make the condition worse.
The team next used their model to test TRPV4 channel blocker, a new class of drug being developed by GlaxoSmithKline. They found that treating the tissues in the device with the Glaxo drug before exposing it to IL-2 prevented blood vessel leakage in the device.
Kevin Thorneloe, a scientist at GlaxoSmithKline, did a parallel study on animals with pulmonary edema to confirm the result.
Thorneloe said that the findings suggest TRPV4 blockers could be effective in humans and were a step toward validating the lung on a chip model.
In July, Wyss entered a $37 million agreement with the US defense department to help develop 10 engineered organs, all linked into one system.
The idea is to replicate a human body on a chip, which could be used to rapidly assess responses to new drugs and potential chemical threats.
The study has been published in the Science Translational Medicine.
Pic courtesy: Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering