While medical research has mostly been centred around finding cures, scientists at the University of Michigan are experimenting with a technology that can change the way drugs are administered. At present almost all drug-testing relies on animal tests and clinical trials. While animal testing comes with the obvious negative of how animals could respond very differently from humans to a particular drug, clinical trials are dogged by questions of ethics and costs. The technology that the University of Michigan researchers are working on, called organ-on-a-chip, uses a cultured sample of kidney cells between the top and bottom parts of a microfluidic device to almost accurately simulate human physiological environment, mirroring the biological, mechanical and biochemical properties of the organ in a human body. The study has found that the antibiotic gentamicin is more harmful to the kidneys when delivered as a continuous infusion than as one large dose.
With FDA reporting that 92% of drugs passing animal-tests fail human trials, the technology can transform the way clinical trials are conducted by eliminating concerns of subjects’ safety. It will introduce precision dosing and could mean a reprieve from the costs of clinical trials which, according to the Harvard University, is more than $2 million for a single compound. With experiments being done on lungs, heart and other organs-on-a-chip, scientists believe they can create a human-on-a-chip to check how the body will react to a particular drug. Coupled with experiments on drugs’ impact in real-time, the research can change diagnostics and treatment in the coming years.