Wake Forest develops 'body-on-a-chip' tech for personalized medicine

A team of researchers from Winston-Salem, N.C.-based Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, Baltimore-based Johns Hopkins University and Boston-based Harvard Medical School are collaborating to develop a technique for drug testing called "body-on-a-chip."

The project team published a study — led by Aleks Skardal, PhD, assistant professor at Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine — in the journal Scientific Reports detailing their success engineering micro-sized 3-D organs such as hearts, lungs and livers that mimic how the human body responds to medications.

The goal is to address the failure rate pharmaceutical companies face when developing drugs, which are typically tested in animals that may not replicate drug effects in humans.

"There is an urgent need for improved systems to accurately predict the effects of drugs, chemicals and biological agents on the human body," said Anthony Atala, MD, director of the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine and senior researcher on the project, which is funded by the Defense Threat Reduction Agency.

In the study, the researchers connected the micro-organs on a single platform to monitor their function and responses to various established drugs. The researchers hope the system can be used to advance drug screenings and to inform personalized medicine approaches by predicting individual patient responses to treatment.

"By using a multi-tissue organ-on-a-chip system, you can hopefully identify toxic side effects early in the drug development process, which could save lives as well as millions of dollars," Dr. Skardal said.

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