Lung Chip

Microchip Organs

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Lung Chip

Recently I heard an amazing interview on NPR with Donald Ingber, director of the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering. He discusses how bioengineers are currently developing microchips that function as working models of human organs on the miniature. Essentially, these are microchip organs, as explained in the video below – it is all a little beyond me.

The stated purpose of such technology is to better how new medicines interact with human organs. Eventually the research team hopes to create a fully functional model of the human body, completely through microchips; this technology will effectively end the need for animal testing – good news!

Organ Chips
Science! A version of the human lung (top) and the human gut (bottom).

In even better news, the testing of new medicines through these microchip organs will also yield exponentially more accurate results. Although rats and humans do share some key characteristics, often times potentially awful side effects do turn up when new medicines are tested on humans that were not present in lab animals. These chips will completely nix any chance of this happening.

 

More amazing still, these chips will lead to a drastic decrease in the cost of prescription drugs. A large part of drug cost is due to the insane amounts of money pharmaceuticals have to pump into drug research, with many of these drugs then failing in human trials for safety reasons. These chips will help to streamline the entire process.

I wonder how far we will see this technology run. Already, in a perhaps even more amazing display of scientific magic, we have examples of organs being grown or created in 3d printers. Is there a way we can see these two technologies intersect? Is it possible that, in the not too distant future, we may have organs being grown on a microchip scaffold for those who need transplants?

I don’t want to delve too deeply into sci-fi here, but could these two technologies also eventually lead to the creation of full cybernetic life? These possibilities remind me of the classic Philip K. Dick book, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Except, whereas Dick’s book paints a grim post-apocalyptic future that deal with androids as slaves incapable of feeling empathy, this future tech instead makes me dream of a world in which no one will die waiting for organ transplants and pharmaceutical drugs can become affordable for all.

All images and videos belong to the Wyss Institute

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