If you have ever wondered what it is like to be an oxygen molecule inhaled through the lungs, here is your chance to find out! In this movie, we take a fantastic voyage through the slippery airways of the adult mouse lung.
We begin at the top in the main pipeline, called the bronchus, just below the trachea and wind through a system of increasingly narrow tubes. As you zoom through the airways, take note of the cilia (seen as goldish streaks); these tiny, hair-like structures move dust, germs, and mucus from smaller air passages to larger ones. Our quick trip concludes with a look into the alveoli — the air sacs where oxygen is delivered to red blood cells and carbon dioxide is removed and exhaled.
Lung-on-a-chip. Source: Wyss Institute at Harvard University
Tissue engineering is turning into a very powerful tool to learn about biology. We haven’t quite figured out how to grow full sized replacement organs, but we’re able to cultivate miniature versions on a chip. These organs-on-a-chip are poised to revolutionize and fast-track drug discovery and development.
Already a new lung-on-a-chip, developed by NIH-funded investigators at the Wyss Institute in Boston, MA, is a game changer. This nifty little thumb-sized device offers a new way to model human diseases, and a cheaper and faster way to screen potential drugs.
Currently, molecules that are promising drug candidates are tested in test tubes or Petri dishes, then in animals, and then, if they’re successful, in a series of human clinical trials. It’s a long, costly process that, on average, takes about 14 years from discovery to clinic with a price tag of up to $2 billion.