Using technology to artificially model the human body, a team of researchers hopes to make both human and animal testing obsolete.
Before new drugs therapies are approved for the general market, they are first subject to rigorous testing. Depending on the type of pharmaceutical, product or treatment, clinical trials usually involve animal testing, human testing, or both. The testing stage, therefore, has the potential to raise ethical issues regarding animals, and can also raise legal issues regarding human consent.
Despite high-profile ethical debates on the subject, clinical trial procedures often rely on animal testing to reduce the legal complications and strict controls associated with securing and demonstrating human consent.
Using technology, a team of researchers at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) hopes to make both human and animal testing obsolete.
Principal Researcher Elizabeth Wheeler and her team are developing an In-vitro Chip-based Human Investigational Platform, also know as the “iCHIP”. The hope is that the iCHIP will replicate the human body and it’s systems well enough to be able to use it as a viable alternative to animals and humans during clinical testing.
Developing an iCHIP that accurately mimics the intricacies of the human body is no small feat. Wheeler explains that the team has started hardwiring the chip by by modeling the hardwiring of the body: the Nervous System. She states that the system will work by seeding a microelectrode array device with neurons that to “accommodate up to four brain regions, such as the hippocampus, thalamus, basal ganglia, and cortices.”
So far, the project is making steady progress and looks promising.
The team has already shown that two types of neurons can survive on the iCHIP for several months at a time, allowing the team to monitor, record and analyze how these neurons respond to testing.
The team has also been able to simulate blood flow, which is crucial in both studying and recreating the blood-brain barrier, or “BBB”, and the heart.
What Wheeler and her team have outlined and accomplished thus far is incredible, but the implications of a fully functional iChip are astounding.
Ethics and Economics
If the team succeeds in developing a viable iCHIP, both animal and human clinical testing could become obsolete, along with the ethical and legal dilemmas associated with the practice.
Without the need for live test subjects in clinical trials, both the costs and timeframes associated with drug development will be significantly reduced.