7 Companies Helping Exclude Animals From Drug Discovery Research

by Natalia Honchar    Contributor 

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Topics: Emerging Technologies   

Are there alternatives to using animals in drug discovery? Even though right now it still seems like a milestone which is almost impossible to avoid, there is a way to not only save the animal lives, but also enhance the drug discovery research by introducing more human-relevant physiological systems. 

In this article we are going to focus our attention around the organ-on-a-chip systems, recent advancements in the sphere and discuss to which extent we can compare such organ chips to the human. In few words, organs-on-chips are constructed from engineered or natural tissues grown inside microfluidic chips, which creates the close-to-physiological cells interplay, mimicking the liquid flow, its pressure and concentration gradients of chemicals.

The standard organs-on-chips are built as cavities containing tissues, connected with channels, where it all together is integrated with electrical connectors, electrodes and microelectrodes. The assembled chip should have a liquid circulating and tissues functioning and “communicating” as it would be occuring in a living body. For example, the heart tissue would contract, liver tissue would produce a set of enzymes, and the “brain” would be protected with a blood-brain barrier.

Are there alternatives to using animals in drug discovery? Even though right now it still seems like a milestone which is almost impossible to avoid, there is a way to not only save the animal lives, but also enhance the drug discovery research by introducing more human-relevant physiological systems. 

This challenge comes along with multiple uncertainties about how much we can rely on the data obtained from such alternative non-animal systems, do they really reflect all the complexity of the living organism and can the drugs be approved for clinical trials just from the research done in microphysiological systems and organoids. 

The term “microphysiological systems” covers biology and engineering developments aiming to mimic the human organ or (most often) human organ systems, while having it all in a controlled in vitro environment. Such systems are also called “organ-on-a-chip” and various derivations of this name. Nature journal in biomedical engineering has a notable collection of articles under the category of “Microphysiological systems”, featuring over 20 Nature publications describing intestine-on-chip, multi-organ chip, neurovascular-unit-on-a-chip, human-airway-on-a-chip, human-glioblastoma-on-a-chip and many more. 

At the same time, there is a less complex model from the engineering point of view, which may assist in excluding animals from the drug discovery research -- organoids. They represent the 3D structure of the corresponding organ unit and can be grown from primary tissue cells, embryonic stem cells, or induced pluripotent stem cells. Unlike conventional 2D cell culture, which lacks the organ anatomic microstructure and cell microenvironment, organoids stand comparatively closer to the physiologically relevant systems. Despite some advantages and the prospective use of organoids for high-throughput drug screening, they suffer from heterogeneity and often lack some essential physiological components, pushing the organoids further away from the clinically representative and reliable models.

RELATED: 3D Printed Muscle Tissues for Drug Discovery With Mantarray™ Platform by Curi Bio

In this article we are going to focus our attention around the organ-on-a-chip systems, recent advancements in the sphere and discuss to which extent we can compare such organ chips to the human. In few words, organs-on-chips are constructed from engineered or natural tissues grown inside microfluidic chips, which creates the close-to-physiological cells interplay, mimicking the liquid flow, its pressure and concentration gradients of chemicals.

The standard organs-on-chips are built as cavities containing tissues, connected with channels, where it all together is integrated with electrical connectors, electrodes and microelectrodes. The assembled chip should have a liquid circulating and tissues functioning and “communicating” as it would be occuring in a living body. For example, the heart tissue would contract, liver tissue would produce a set of enzymes, and the “brain” would be protected with a blood-brain barrier.

Let’s review some of the companies pushing boundaries in this field: 

 

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Topics: Emerging Technologies   

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