Traditionally, the testing and development of a new drug can take many years and billions of dollars. This testing is necessary to avoid introducing drugs that could cause a great deal of harm, but often takes so long that it decreases the availability of life-saving treatment plans.
However, immerging research may be leading to a new method of testing drugs that could greatly improve the speed, cost, and accuracy of new medication.
Growing Human Tissue on Chips
Currently, scientists at the University of California, Berkley, headed by bioengineer Kevin Healy, are creating a highly innovative method of testing the effects of new drugs. This testing involves growing human organ tissue on "biochips," as samples of skin cells are used to grow a particular type of organ tissue, such as heart or liver samples, and then grow these on a plastic chambers that can be viewed with a microscope.
This allows for the creation of a "microorgan," which can show us how that type of organ tissue would respond to a drug. The researches hope that these created tissue chips can function in ways similar to the actual human organs function.
The chips provide a three-dimensional space for the organ to grow, allowing for more accurate model of how an organ might react. Just like computer chips, these organoid chips could allow large systems of multiple experiments on tissues at once, leading to a fuller picture of how a drug or illness could affect the body.
According to Israeli doctor Nahum Kovalski, if research goes as hoped, by 2017 it will be possible to emulate 10 organs at once, allowing drug testing to go significantly faster. Treatment is getting expedited due to $1.2 million in funding, supported by the Cures Acceleration Network, a government agency seeking to fast- track medical research.
Potential Advantages of These New Chips
These chips would provide an inexpensive, quicker, and safer way of seeing if a drug is ineffective or harmful. It is hoped that the drug in question can simply be applied to the tissue, allowing scientist to quickly see if it will have any affect on the organ in question.
Traditionally, these questions could only be determined through many years of difficult and dangerous studies on animal and human subjects. Animal testing in particular does not always give accurate results, since different specie's reactions may not mirror how a human body would react.
Although medical drugs are often designed and marketed with a one-size-fits-all approach, the truth is that different people may respond differently to the same treatments, since every person and every case is unique. This means that sometimes, medical care can be a trail and error process, as doctors seek to deal with disease and symptoms from among a wide variety of treatments, which may or may not work perfectly for each unique case.
This trial and error process can sometimes be painful and costly, as people are given treatments plans that are not the best for them. Since these tissues can be grown from anyone's skin cells, this would allow for more personalized medicine and patient-specific treatment plans.
Doctors would be a better sense of how one person's organs would be impacted by a particular medication. One example of this is related to the abuse of prescription drugs.
Sometimes withdraw symptoms or dependency development of a pain reliever may not be fully known until a drug has already been administered. Some of the most harmful side effects occur in only 1 out of 10,000 humans.
For this reason, it is crucial to test a new substance on every variation imaginable. This new technology makes this more possible then ever before.