The team followed this experiment with a "real-world application of the device," says Huh. They introduced a variety of nano-scaled particles (a nanometer is one-billionth of a meter) into the air sac channel. Some of these particles exist in commercial products; others are found in air and water pollution. Several types of these nanoparticles entered the lung cells and caused the cells to overproduce free radicals and to induce inflammation. Many of the particles passed through the model lung into the blood channel, and the investigators discovered that mechanical breathing greatly enhanced nanoparticle absorption. Benjamin Matthews, Harvard Medical School assistant professor in the Vascular Biology Program at Children's Hospital Boston, verified these new findings in mice.
"Most importantly, we learned from this model that the act of breathing increases nanoparticle absorption and that it also plays an important role in inducing the toxicity of these nanoparticles," Huh says.
"This lung-on-a-chip is neat and merges a number of technologies in an innovative way," says Robert Langer, MIT Institute professor. "I think it should be useful in testing the safety of different substances on the lung and I can also imagine other related applications, such as in research into how the lung functions."
According to Ismagilov, it's too early to predict how successful this field of research will be. Still, "the potential to use human cells while recapitulating the complex mechanical features and chemical microenvironments of an organ could provide a truly revolutionary paradigm shift in drug discovery," he says.
The investigators have not yet demonstrated the system's capability to mimic gas exchange between the air sac and bloodstream, a key functi
|Contact: David Cameron|
Harvard Medical School