Wyss Institute & Tel Aviv University Researchers Create Mini Human-on-a-Chip Technology to Accelerate Drug Trials

Wyss Institute & Tel Aviv University Researchers Create Mini Human-on-a-Chip Technology to Accelerate Drug Trials

Tel Aviv and Harvard University researchers developed mini-human organs-on-a-chip in pursuit of drug development acceleration. Sounding like some sort of science fiction-based activity, the researchers were able to connect nine organs via these mini chips including a brain, heart and liver designing what they call a mini-human-on-a-chip.

With studies published in journal Nature Biomedical Engineering, the Tel Aviv University and Harvard University scientists leveraged this breakthrough first developed at Harvard University in 2010.

Novel Breakthrough

The researchers have now demonstrated, reports the Times of Israel, that they can link-up the organs and showcased how they can react to drugs much like a human organ would do so in a clinical trial. How could this be useful? Well traditionally Dr. Ben Maoz with Tel Aviv University explained to the Times of Israel that drug researchers typically try an investigational drug out on a rodent and only if those tests go well then do, they proceed do they progress to humans. However, a majority (60%-90%) of the drugs successful in animals fail in humans. Because this just adds to the intense time and expense of clinical trials, it would be optimal to cut out the rodent stage and immediately commence human trials. This has traditionally been impossible until the new studies.

The Studies

57 scientists from Tel Avid University, Harvard and other groups collaborated for seven years on a project to design and develop what according to Dr. Maoz was “ a functioning comprehensive multi Organ-on-a-Chip platform” that can interact with drugs just like humans would do so in a clinical trial. Maoz reported, “We created a human model that is not a human being.” The team could accomplish this by mimicking the functionality of the organ from which the cells were taken—such as the liver or heart—with a tiny plastic cartridge the size a USB drive.

Where to Now?

Maoz reports that the goal would be that some day this technology and methodology can be used as an alternative to animal experiments and the cutting back of any of their suffering. The researchers envision a precision and personalized future where each person could essentially maintain a panel of organs-on-a-chip for personalized testing—how would the patient respond to a particular drug?

Study Funders

The studies were funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) project at the Wyss Institute.  Several of the researchers are employees and/or holders of equity in Emulate, Inc., a company that was a spinoff of the Wyss Institute to commercially develop the Organ chip technology.

Emulate Inc.

Emulate also recently published the results of the studies. Based in the Boston, MA area, Emulate’s Human Emulation System they believe sets a new standard for recreating true-to-life human biology. They point on their website that the technology is now being used to advance product innovation, design and safety across a range of applications, including drug development, agriculture, cosmetics, food and chemical-based consumer products.

Formed in 2013, they have raised $95 million in venture capital to date.

About Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering

The Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering is a cross-disciplinary research institute at Harvard University which focuses on developing new bioinspired materials and devices for applications in healthcare, manufacturing, robotics, energy and sustainable architecture. The institute has two sites, including 1) in the Center for Life Sciences Boston building in the Longwood Medical Area and 2) one on Harvard’s main campus in Cambridge, MA. The Wyss Institute was launched in January 2009 with a $125 million gift to Harvard from Hanjorg Wyss—this was doubled to $250 million in 2019.

Lead Research/Investigator

Dr. Ben Maoz, Tel Aviv University, Department of Biomedical Engineering and Sagol School of Neuroscience

Professor Donald Ingber, founding director, Harvard University Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering

Professor Kevin Kit Parker, Wyss Institute