Of Mice, Men, and Medicine

Photo of someone holding the lab on a chip device next to a photo of two laboratory mice

Will a chip challenge the mouse?
Source: Wyss Institute and Bill Branson, NIH

The humble laboratory mouse has taught us a phenomenal amount about embryonic development, disease, and evolution. And, for decades, the pharmaceutical industry has relied on these critters to test the safety and efficacy of new drug candidates. If it works in mice, so we thought, it should work in humans. But when it comes to molecules designed to target a sepsis-like condition, 150 drugs that successfully treated this condition in mice later failed in human clinical trials—a heartbreaking loss of decades of research and billions of dollars. A new NIH-funded study [1] reveals why.

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Lung-on-a-Chip Reveals Disease Secrets

photo of a microchip

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.

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