Researchers in the Department of Biological Engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) will receive up to $32 million over the next five years from DARPA and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to develop a technology platform that will mimic human physiological systems in the laboratory, using an array of integrated, interchangeable engineered human tissue constructs. DARPA have also announced the $37 million grant for the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University to help research the project.
The modules will be designed to mimic the functions of specific organ systems
The hope is the research will help fast track drug development. For example, if there was an outbreak of a virus, scientists would have a ready-designed platform to start testing drugs immediately, rather than wait a number of months to follow the current procedure. Essentially, scientists can start rejecting drugs that don’t work earlier in the development process – hopefully helping to save lives while also alleviating side-effects.
Central to the program will be creating a microfluidic chip into which up to 10 modules can be installed holding different engineered human organ samples, these are then attached with sensors that monitor their behaviour.
“The modules will be designed to mimic the functions of specific organ systems representing a broad spectrum of human tissues, including the circulatory, endocrine, gastrointestinal, immune, integumentary, musculoskeletal, nervous, reproductive, respiratory and urinary systems,” a statement says.
In the future this technology will help develop commercial pharmaceuticals quicker
“The goal of the program is to create a versatile platform capable of accurately predicting drug and vaccine efficacy, toxicity, and pharmacokinetics in preclinical testing. The BIO-MIMETICS team anticipates that the platform will be suitable for use in regulatory review, amenable to rapid translation to the biopharmaceutical research community, and adaptable for integration of future technologies (such as advances in stem cell technologies and personalised medicine).”
The use of advanced micro-electronics in healthcare is not a new development. Earlier this year the Nutrichip was developed by researchers at École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL), a mini artificial intestinal wall on a chip that will enable more detailed nutritional testing on food. Also, Sharp Labs, in association with Southampton University, announced their microfluidics project – an innovative research project to not only improve but speed up the analysis of human blood, with doctors able to receive results of blood tests within minutes using a mini laboratory that fits in the palm of the hand.
In the future this technology will help develop commercial pharmaceuticals quicker. If successful the project could help eliminate the spread of viruses like bird flu by helping to produce antidotes faster.