Organ-on-a-chip (OOAC) technology simulates human tissue on an electronic chip, aiding in the development and testing of new medicines, determining the toxicity of drugs and environmental stimuli, and modeling the physiology of human organs for further study. Advances in organ-on-a-chip engineering involve microfluidics technology, the science of controlling and processing microfluids within diagnostic devices through channels within the device, measured in microns.
OOAC devices bring chemical, biological, and materials scientists together with engineers to create tools that process tissue samples, sort and separate cells, and detect the presence of pathogens or structural defects in the sample. Scientists have developed bioelectrical sensors within an OOAC device to study how heart cells communicate with each other in the complex electrophysiology of the multicellular system that makes up the human heart.
What Makes OOAC So Useful
Most diagnostic and toxicity testing begins with in-vitro testing. Researchers grow cells outside the body and introduce drugs or chemicals to test the cells’ reactions. Researchers traditionally follow these tests with tests on laboratory animals or clinical trials using human volunteers.
OOAC technology holds the promise of eliminating animal testing and improving the safety and efficacy of clinical trials. These devices create microscopic physiological systems in two or three dimensions that better represent human physiology than cells grown on flat plastic surfaces. In addition, scientists can use chips in tandem or multiple groups to simulate organ systems more accurately than one chip could do by itself.
What Organs Does OOAC Simulate
OOAC technology is constantly advancing. To date, it has achieved simulation of the cellular function of about two dozen organs in the human body, including the lung, kidney, liver, gut, blood-brain barrier, and parts of reproductive organs. Chips exist to simulate certain kinds of muscles and bone marrow. Scientists are constantly coming up with new ways to expand the use of OOAC technology to simulate additional organ systems within the human body.
OOAC Devices Require Detailed Design and Specialized Materials
The cells that are introduced into OOAC devices must be organized correctly within the device to properly simulate the cellular structures of human organs. Chip developers work with microfluidic device design services to create the appropriate environment for the chip to do its job. The materials and cartridges containing these chips must not react negatively with the cells, as this will affect the accuracy of the simulation. The devices that contain the cells must be highly detailed on a microscopic level. They are formed from a variety of materials, including thermoplastics and synthetic polymers, and use techniques such as soft lithography and injection molding. The result is a coordinated device that provides a glimpse into the actual functions and reactions of human organs on a cellular level.