Don’t eat these chips!

Advances in medicines and vaccines are incredibly important to combat illnesses and disease. Medical advances have given the world the ability to operate on a beating heart, to cure diseases once considered certain death, to follow specific cells around the body, and to eradicate diseases like polio. 

However, developing new drugs is very costly, both in time and money. Drug makers spend more than ten million dollars on a drug before it even reaches the clinical, or human, trial stage. Additionally, drugs are required to be tested on animals before human trials are approved, which is very expensive, hard to schedule, and raises ethical problems. 

A new method of testing drugs is being developed. Tissue chips combine miniature models of living organ tissues on a transparent microchip. The complete organ isn’t built, only the smallest amount that still delivers a functional response. So far, chips for the liver, heart and lung have been developed. The ultimate goal is to construct and connect tissue chips for all organs, creating a whole body. 

Tissue chips are cheaper and faster to use. Normal drug development requires several rounds of testing in animals. These animals have been used for testing of other drugs in the past, so sometimes it is difficult to know if an animal is reacting to the current drug, or the interaction of the current drug with an old drug. Many drugs fail in the animal testing phase, adding to the cost of successful drugs. 

Another problem with relying on testing in animals is that animal biology is different than human biology, meaning that just because a drug is deemed safe in an animal does not mean it will still be safe when used in humans. For this reason, chimpanzees and other primates are sought after for testing. However, using animals as smart and as closely related to humans as primates encourages ethical questions. 

An enormous criticism of the pharmaceutical industry is the high cost for its drugs, especially in developing countries, which desperately need the drugs but cant afford them. Pharmaceutical companies say the reason they cant lower their prices is the costs associated with development and testing of drugs. Hopefully, tissue chips will bring the cost down enough to make drugs easily accessible to all. 

Tissue chips are seen as the future of drug testing. In the United States, funding is going to around a dozen universities to develop the technology needed to create a whole body system. Right now tissue chips are only used to supplement animal testing, but as more universities and research institutions work to develop this technology, it will eventually be good enough to replace animal testing.

Prepared by: Jonathan Zur

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