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Human on a Chip

TU scientists have developed a mini-organism that is expected to make millions of animal experiments redundant

Dr. Uwe Marx with the chip © Philipp Arnoldt

According to EU statistics, 11.4 million animals were used for research and development purposes in 2011, most of them for testing. However, the ability of animal experiments to say anything conclusive about possible effects on humans remains limited. Many a costly experiment has been abandoned for this reason. Professor Dr. Roland Lauster and his team at the TU Sub-Department of Medical Biotechnology are currently developing 'human-on-a-chip' platforms, that is microscale organ structures that fit onto a chip and react to active substances like real organs. The 'two-organ chip' has already been completed and is ready to operate.

TU Berlin scientist Dr. Uwe Marx developed the multi-organ chip (MOC) with his team and cooperation partners. The researchers at the Sub-Department of Medical Biotechnology have specialized in the long-term microscale cultivation of human organs and organ systems. For this purpose, they use only a very small number of living cells – for instance, from the liver, the brain, the skin, the kidneys  or the intestines – all of which depict and simulate on a smaller scale the complete organ function in the three-dimensional arrangement that is typical for organs. The organoid tissue structures on the chip are interconnected through microchannels that are similar to blood vessels.

Dr. Marx says: "The goal is to display a mini-organism including all vital organs. However, that is still a long way off." But even at today's stage of development the researchers can to a large extent replace animal experiments. "Micro-organs in the chips provide results that make the natural reaction of human organs – for example, to the adverse effects of medication, cosmetics, chemicals or other products – predictable in such a unique and reliable way that these products no longer need to be preclinically tested on animals at all," says Dr. Marx. Many of the subsequent clinical tests on human test persons could also become redundant. The Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture has awarded Dr. Marx the Animal Protection Research Prize for developing the operational 'two-organ chip'.

Dr. Marx says: "With the help of our chip we can kill two birds with one stone . We decrease the suffering of countless millions of animals as well as the number of test persons in clinical studies, while reducing development costs."
In 2010, the scientists founded TissUse GmbH as a TU Berlin spin-off, with Dr. Marx being the General Manager, in order to merchandise the product successfully.

© TissUse GmbH
















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