UC Berkeley researchers have created a ‘heart-on-a-chip’ that effectively uses human cardiac muscle cells derived from adult stem cells to model how a human heart reacts to cardiovascular medications. The system could one day replace animal models to screen for the safety and efficacy of new drugs.
This organ-on-a-chip, reported in a study to be published Monday, March 9, in the journal Scientific Reports, represents a major step forward in the development of accurate, faster methods of testing for drug toxicity. The project is funded through the Tissue Chip for Drug Screening Initiative, an interagency collaboration launched by the National Institutes of Health to develop 3-D human tissue chips that model the structure and function of human organs.
“Ultimately, these chips could replace the use of animals to screen drugs for safety and efficacy,” said Healy.
The study authors noted a high failure rate associated with the use of nonhuman animal models to predict human reactions to new drugs. Much of this is due to fundamental differences in biology between species, the researchers explained. For instance, the ion channels through which heart cells conduct electrical currents can vary in both number and type between humans and other animals.
“Many cardiovascular drugs target those channels, so these differences often result in inefficient and costly experiments that do not provide accurate answers about the toxicity of a drug in humans,” said Healy. “It takes about $5 billion on average to develop a drug, and 60 percent of that figure comes from upfront costs in the research and development phase. Using a well-designed model of a human organ could significantly cut the cost and time of bringing a new drug to market.”
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