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'Human on a chip' steals the show at world congress on alternatives

A presentation from a German ‘lab-on-a-chip’ company stole the show at the world congress on alternatives and animal use in Prague last week. A summary was published in the Sunday Times and Daily Mail yesterday and included statistics provided by the BUAV.

Director of the company, TissUse GmbH, Dr. Uwe Marx wowed the audience with his idea of a 10-organ chip that could be used to test drugs instead of using animals. The schematic he showed described how the small device could contain cells from vital organ such as the brain, liver, kidneys, lung and skin. The cells would be connected via microfluidic channels that would transport nutrients and test substances as well as waste materials in a similar way to blood. Substances that are inhaled or absorbed through the skin could also be tested. The developers believe that their device can replace most types of animal tests. It has the advantage that it mimics the ‘whole body system,’ which is often one of the excuses animal researchers come up with when defending the need to test on (whole, i.e. live) animals.

To date, the company has validated a smaller chip continuing two organs (liver and skin) and they are finalising one that contains four organs and can last for 28 days (the length of one of the most common animal tests). Obtaining large scale funding to ramp up the sophistication of the model is the initial hurdle, obtaining regulatory approval will then also need to follow.

Dr Marx told the Sunday Times, "If our system is approved by the regulators, then it will close down most of the animal-testing laboratories worldwide". We hope so!

1.       Artificial micro-humans may replace animals in lab tests. Sunday Times 31 August 2014.

2.       Farms of 'artificial humans' to replace animal testing within three years, say experts as they develop microchips which mimic our organs perfectly. Mail Online 31 August 2014.