In order to ensure that drugs are safe for human use, they must first be tested on humans. For obvious reasons, this can be dangerous, even life threatening, but researchers at Harvard have developed a device that can at least partially reduce the risk involved. These see-through microchips, although tiny and simply designed, emulate enough of a human organ’s functions that they can be used as a preliminary step to real human testing.

Several different kinds of microchips have currently been designed, including the lungs (which is the image at the top), heart, and intestines. The microchips, about the size of a USB, contain microfluidic channels that are lined with living human cells.These cells allow scientists to observe the effects of drugs on various organs in the human body by simply viewing these effects on a simulated micro-environment through the clear polymer that makes up the bulk of the microchips. Not only does this mean that drugs can be further tested before being used on real humans, thus allowing for safer testing conditions as well as safer drugs on the market, but this technology could also eliminate the need for animal testing.

The researchers at Harvard are hoping to not just recreate simulations of individual organs, but to connect them together in a system that more accurately recreates the interactions between organs in a full human body. According to Jesse Goodman, FDA Chief Scientist and Deputy Commissioner for Science and Public Health, this technology could “be a better model for determining human adverse responses [to drugs]” and that the FDA looks forward to cooperating with the “development of this model that may ultimately be used in therapeutic development.”

Things sure have been getting science-fictiony lately, what with creating a real life thinking caplanding on Mars, and now this. I’m looking forward to the next time science makes my jaw drop, which at this rate, will probably be tomorrow.


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