Testing new drugs on animals can be costly, cruel, and ineffective. In the quest to identify an alternative, a U.K. biopharmaceutical company has developed a “liver on a chip,” an important advance in the effort to minimize, and even put an end to, animal experimentation.

Image credit: CN Bio Innovations via Bloomberg

Testing experimental medicines on animals has its drawbacks. Treatments for certain diseases, like hepatitis B, can only be tested on primates like chimpanzees, a practice that has come under considerable scrutiny in recent years. It’s also bloody expensive; pharmaceutical developers often spend $10-million on a drug before it even reaches human clinical trials, with much of that cost absorbed into animal testing. What’s more, animal models often make for poor human analogues. What’s required, therefore, is something more ethical, affordable, and true to human physiology and genetics.

Advertisement

As Bloomberg Business is reporting, one potential solution may come in the form of synthetic human organs that are simulated on chips. Biomemetic platform company CN Bio Innovations has developed a chip that simulates the human liver. Called the LiverChip System, it’s a scaffold whose dimensions recreate the capillary bed structures of human livers; the point is not to re-create the entire liver, but enough of it to perform meaningful tests.

Recently, Australian company Benitec Biopharma Ltd. acquired the help of CN Bio to test a potential cure for hepatitis B using their LiverChip — a process that would have normally required the use of 50 chimpanzees. It cost Benitec $22,000 to use LiverChip, a savings it described as “significant.”

Advertisement

Unfortunately, animal testing is still a necessary part of the process. The U.S. Food & Drug Administration requires developers to test medicines on animals prior to human trials. But as the Bloomberg Business article pointed out, the FDA is “looking forward” to when these organs on a chip can replace other forms of testing.

There’s still a long way to go before this technology will completely replace animal testing, but there are good reasons to be optimistic. The U.S. Department of Defense just dumped $63 million into developing a “human on a chip” that will comprise no fewer than 10 synthetic organs, working together.

Amazing — yet another sign that technology will help us put an end to animal experimentation.

Read more at Bloomberg Business.