Tech helping speed clinical development: “human body on a chip” Reply

At Lilly COI, we come to work every day with intent to make a difference by using our knowledge of clinical practices, belief in the power of Open Innovation and a commitment to leverage open input and data to help bring solutions to help all stakeholders in drug development. Our audience includes clinicians, academics, patient advocates, patient researchers and citizen scientists.

We’ve said before that drug development is too costly and at times inefficient. Also – how can drugs be developed to serve the needs of patients? This is why a new project caught our attention – let’s explore.


Image courtesy of Francisco Diez

Researchers at MIT have begun a project to build human tissue simulators, aka “a human body on a chip’. The outcome could mean more efficient drug testing and bringing new pharmaceuticals to market faster.

According to HumansInvent, researchers at the Department of Biological Engineering at MIT will receive a large grant over the next five years from Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) with the intent of developing a technology platform that will simulate human physiological systems in the lab. The project will develop a system using an array of interchangeable engineered human tissue constructs in order to test agents on in a more human way, with reduced side affects.

Having a flexible module-based “human body on a chip” will enable researchers to start testing drugs immediately – making it possible to reject drugs that don’t work earlier in the development process. Also, pharma companies could taylor drugs to populations more effectively.

The program aims to accelerate the pace and efficiency of pharmaceutical drug discovery as well as provide a quick in-the-field method for testing the toxicity of unknown substances. — EE Times

The crux of the MIT project will be a microfluidic chip in which up to 10 modules can be installed that each hold engineered human organ samples. Then, the modules will be attached with sensors to monitor their behaviors. In theory, it would be possible to build simulated organ systems that will represent the circulatory, immune, nervous, reproductive and urinary systems, for example.

The research team hopes to build a technology platform that can accurately predict drug and vaccine efficacy and toxicity.

Building microscale, fully operational environments—a tiny bionic liver with all the characteristics of a larger liver—could cut down on unpredictable or inconclusive results by offering a more whole picture of a treatment’s effect on the body. — Slate

We see the human body on a chip project as an effective way to help make trial design more targeted. Simulated, patient-level response would help inform more pointed, better designed trials with targeted populations and endpoints, giving more specific insight on whether drugs work and in what populations they work best.

The data and intepreted results could be another source of information that will be helfpul to direct drug development for all those interested in drug research, including the pharma industry, academics, government and citizen scientists.  This advance in technology will generate data that can be part of a broader clinical intelligence network that could transform the way drugs are developed.

Lilly COI is focused on collecting and providing information to support clinical development. It will be interesting to see how the ‘human body on a chip’ will be valuable to those patients and researchers devoted to finding new drugs.

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