Wyss Institute Founding Director Don Ingber’s groundbreaking work in creating a living, breathing human lung-on-a-chip has been recognized as one of 2010’s most important research advances in biological and medical science, as well as one of 2010’s most important stories.
The Faculty of 1000 (F1000), a collaboration of more than 10,000 of the world’s leading scientists and clinicians, bestowed its highest rating — a 10 for “Exceptional” — on Ingber’s findings, which appeared in the June 25 issue of the journal Science. The inclusion of “Reconstituting Organ-Level Lung Functions” in the F1000 library places it among the top two percent of all research articles published in the fields of biological and medical sciences. At the same time, Ingber’s article was also named to Discover magazine’s list of the Top 100 stories of 2010.
Lung-on-a-chip technology combines microfabrication techniques from the computer industry, with modern tissue engineering techniques and human cells, to create a device that can mimic the complicated natural responses of living lungs to stimuli. For instance, it can predict absorption of airborne nanoparticles and mimic the inflammatory response triggered by microbial pathogens. The device can therefore be used to test the effects of environmental toxins, absorption of aerosolized therapeutics, and the safety and efficacy of new drugs. Lung-on-a-chip could one day become an alternative to costly and time-consuming animal testing.
“This ‘organ-on-a-chip’ represents a very significant advance in the development of in vitro models that more closely represent the complexity of critical tissue interfaces,” wrote F1000 reviewer, Dr. John Laffey, a Consultant in Anaesthesia and Intensive Care Medicine at University College Hospital in Galway, Ireland. “[It] will have substantial potential for drug screening and toxicological applications.”
In October, Ingber’s research team at the Wyss Institute was awarded more than $3 million in funding from the National Institutes of Health and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to develop a “Heart-Lung Micromachine” to accelerate drug safety and efficacy testing. The proposed device would be the first time that two different organ systems are combined within a single microsystem. The Wyss Institute is working on other organ models as well, such as a kidney-on-a-chip that produces urine and an intestine-on-a-chip that exhibits peristalsis. An artificial spleen-on-a-chip is also being developed, as well as a sepsis therapeutic device, a blood infection diagnostic, and even bone marrow and cancer models.