Let’s start with the chip. We’re not talking cedar or potatoes. In the world of technology, chip is short for microchip. But you knew that. However, did you know that, a microchip is “the incredibly complex yet tiny module that stores computer memory or provides logic circuitry for microprocessors?” Now, that’ll rattle your vocabulary storage center!
Whatis.techtarget.com, a good source for quick answers to tech questions, provides this helpful definition. Of course, just that bit of information doesn’t resolve the mental picture of the expression “body-on-a-chip,” does it? What kind of body?
Flesh & Blood
Good question! Nothing close to flesh and blood. But resembling the human system from a systemic and technological perspective. And, in fact, using molecules of real flesh & blood. The MIT.edu article gives us the detailed description. “Using a microfluidic platform to connect tissues of up to 10 organs, researchers are now able to explore in real human tissues how a drug is absorbed, distributed, metabolized, and ultimately excreted through the entire system.” MIT has created this technology to “facilitate testing new drugs and identifying side-effects before initiating human testing.”
The ability to replicate disease states will accelerate experimentation and drive new insight into complex systems. An example of a 2-4 organ disease that will benefit from this new technology is Parkinson’s. Eventually, full replication of up to 10 organs will be carried out. This enables researchers to “accurately replicate human organ interactions for weeks at a time” without human interaction or scrutiny for weeks at a time. A relief for the human! Also determining, without damaging the human, adverse effects of the drug on the targeted organ or on another organ not targeted.
As one of the authors of the study, Linda Griffith, the School of Engineering Professor of Teaching Innovation, put it, “Some of these effects are really hard to predict from animal models because the situations that lead to them are idiosyncratic. With our chip, you can distribute a drug and then look for the effects on other tissues and measure the exposure and how it is metabolized.”
The most immediate use of the technology centers on modeling for two to four organs. Of especial interest is the development of a model system for Parkinson’s disease that includes brain, liver, and gastrointestinal tissue. This developed model will be used to investigate the hypothesis that bacteria found in the gut can influence the development of Parkinson’s disease.
We are amazed at how technology, in the right hands, can be applied to such beneficial purposes. Not just word processing or spreadsheets. Above Donkey Kong and Pokemon GO. Beyond Facebook or Twitter. Here is technology harnessed to discover solutions to pressing physical issues of disease. People related life benefit.