PORTLAND, Ore.—Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and elsewhere have embarked on an ambitious $32 million " human body-on-a-chip" research project that will use micro-electro-mechanical systems (MEMS) microfluidics to mimic people's reactions to substances-of-interest.
The researchers will use microfluidics to test drugs, vaccines and toxins on engineered human tissue samples housed above sensors on an integrated circuit. Funding for the project is being provided by the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA) and the National Institute of Health (NIH).
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. Up to 10 interchangeable human tissue modules can be installed on the chip, thus speeding both screening and regulatory review by accurately predicting drug and vaccine efficacy, toxicity and pharmacokinetics.
Central to the program will be creating a microfluidic chip into which up to 10 modules can be installed holding different engineered human organ samples atop sensors to monitor their behaviors. The samples will be interconnected in a reconfigurable manner that allows functional modeling of the circulatory, endocrine, gastrointestinal, immune, integumentary, musculoskeletal, nervous, reproductive, respiratory and urinary systems. Future variations will also be adapted to stem cell testing for personalized medical remedies.
As part of the Microphysiological Systems program at DARPA, the MIT-led effort will enlist the cooperation of the Charles Stark Draper Laboratory, MatTek Corp. and Zyoxel Ltd. The National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences at NIH will also participate in a parallel effort with MIT, Draper Laboratory and the University of Pittsburgh to model cancer metastasis therapies for use with the human body-on-a-chip.
Human body on-a-chip hosts up to 10 interchangeable human tissue modules using microfluidics to model human responses to drugs and vaccines (click on image to enlarge).
Microfluidics is enabling a whole new arena of bio-cicuitry that combines living tissue functionality with electronic control. Like the neural networks on-a-chip in the 1990s, these chips embed electronic sensors underneath living cells. However, the addition of microfluidics to pipe around fluids that emulate the interactions among our different systems--from nervous to respiratory--these new human-bodies on-a-chip should speed both drug discovery and security screening.