BOSTON, Mass. (June 24, 2010) Researchers from the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University, Harvard Medical School and Children's Hospital Boston have created a device that mimics a living, breathing human lung on a microchip. The device, about the size of a rubber eraser, acts much like a lung in a human body and is made using human lung and blood vessel cells.
Because the lung device is translucent, it provides a window into the inner-workings of the human lung without having to invade a living body. It has the potential to be a valuable tool for testing the effects of environmental toxins, absorption of aerosolized therapeutics and the safety and efficacy of new drugs. Such a tool may help accelerate pharmaceutical development by reducing the reliance on current models, in which testing a single substance can cost more than $2 million.
"The ability of the lung-on-a-chip device to predict absorption of airborne nanoparticles and mimic the inflammatory response triggered by microbial pathogens, provides proof-of-principle for the concept that organs-on-chips could replace many animal studies in the future," says Donald Ingber, senior author on the study and founding director of Harvard's Wyss Institute.
The paper appears in the June 25 issue of Science.
Room to breathe
Until now, tissue-engineered microsystems have been limited either mechanically or biologically, says Ingber, who is also the Judah Folkman professor of vascular Biology at Harvard Medical School and Children's Hospital Boston. "We really can't understand how biology works unless we put it in the physical context of real living cells, tissues and organs."
With every human breath, air enters the lungs, fills microscopic air sacs called alveoli and transfers oxygen through a thin, flexible, permeable membrane of lung cells into the bloodstream. It is this membranea three-layered interface of lung
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Harvard Medical School