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Microchips lined by human cells that could revolutionize drug testing and development

Combining microfabrication techniques with modern tissue engineering, lung-on-a-chip offers an in vitro approach to drug screening by mimicking the complicated mechanical and biochemical behaviors of a human lung.

The paradigm used by pharmaceutical companies to discover and develop new drugs is broken. Clinical studies take years to complete and testing a single compound can cost more than $2 million. Meanwhile, innumerable animal lives are lost, and the process often fails to predict human responses because traditional animal models do not accurately mimic human physiology. For these reasons, the pharmaceutical industry needs alternative ways to screen drug candidates in the laboratory.

The Wyss Solution

Institute researchers and a multidisciplinary team of collaborators are engineering microchips that recapitulate the microarchitecture and functions of living organs, such as the lung, heart, and intestine. These microchips, called organs-on-chips, could one day form an accurate alternative to traditional animal testing. Each individual organ-on-chip is composed of a clear flexible polymer about the size of a computer memory stick that contains hollow microfluidic channels lined by living human cells. Because the microdevices are translucent, they provide a window into the inner workings of human organs.

Lung-on-a-chip and Gut-on-a-chip
Wyss Institute researchers and a multidisciplinary team of collaborators seek to build and link 10 human organs-on-chips to mimic whole body physiology. The system will incorporate the Institute's Human Lung-on-a-Chip (top) and Human Gut-on-a-Chip (bottom).

The Wyss Institute team seeks to build ten different human organs-on-chips and link them together on an automated instrument to mimic whole-body physiology. The instrument will control fluid flow and cell viability while permitting real-time observation of the cultured tissues and analysis of complex biochemical functions. This instrumented "human-on-a-chip" will be used to rapidly assess responses to new drug candidates, providing critical information on their safety and efficacy.












  • Provide an accurate alternative to traditional animal tests that often fail to predict human responses
  • Test the effects of new drug candidates for safety and efficacy in human tissues
  • Test the safety of cosmetics
  • Test the toxicity of chemicals
  • Help scientists elucidate how tissues respond to new drug candidates
  • Ensure better regulatory decision-making
  • Develop vaccines and drugs to counter bioterrorism threats

Nature Biotech review

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We've won a Webby Award!

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