NIH through the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS) has funded seventeen grants for up to $70 million over five years to create 3-D chips with living cells and tissues to accurately model the structure and function of human organs.
More than 30 percent of promising medications have failed in human clinical trials because they are determined to be toxic despite promising pre-clinical studies in animal models. Tissue chips, which are a newer human cell-based approach, may enable scientists to predict more accurately how effective a therapeutic candidate would be in clinical studies.
Tissue chips merge techniques from the computer industry with modern tissue engineering by combining miniature models of living organ tissues on a transparent microchip. Ranging in size from a quarter to the size of a house key, the chips are lined with living cells and contain features designed to replicate the complex biological functions of specific organs.
Once developed, these tissue chips will be tested with compounds known to be safe or toxic in humans to help identify the most reliable drug safety signals. This will ultimately advance research to help predict the safety of potential drugs in a faster and more cost-effective way.
Ten of the awards will support studies to develop 3-D cellular microsystems that represent a number of human organ systems. These bioengineered devices will be functionally relevant and accurately reflect the complexity of the tissue of origin, including genomic diversity, disease complexity, and pharmacological response.
The other seven awards will explore the potential of stem and progenitor cells to differentiate multiple cell types that represent the cellular architecture within organ systems. These could act as a source of cells to populate tissue chips.
The NIH tissue chip for drug screening initiative is the result of collaboration between NIH’s Common Fund and the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, DARPA, and FDA. The NIH and DARPA programs will be coordinated closely.
For example, DARPA has entered into cooperative agreements with two of the NIH recipients, the Wyss Institute at Harvard and MIT to develop engineering platforms capable of integrating 10 or more organ systems. FDA will help explore how this new technology may be used to assess drug safety prior to approval for first-in-human studies.
Go to www.ncats.nih.gov/reseach/reengineering/tissue-chip/tissue-chip.html for more information.