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NIH Awards $17M for Next Phase of Tissue Chip for Drug Screening Program

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb) – The National Institutes of Health has awarded $17 million to fund 11 research groups seeking to develop 3-D human tissue chips that can be used to predict drug safety and effectiveness, NIH said today.

Led by the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences, along with support from 15 NIH institutes and centers, the Tissue Chip for Drug Screening initiative aims to develop 3-D chip technologies that can be integrated into a system that mimics human body functions. Lined with living cells and features that replicate complex biological functions, the chips are being developed with the aim of serving as indicators of drug response that can lessen the cost and enhance the capabilities of toxicity and effectiveness studies. Around 80 percent of candidate drugs fail in human clinical trials because they are deemed unsafe or ineffective.

"The development of tissue chips is a remarkable marriage of biology and engineering, and has the potential to transform preclinical testing of candidate treatments, providing valuable tools for biomedical research," NIH Director Francis Collins said in a statement.

"NCATS aims to get more treatments to more patients more efficiently," added NCATS Director Christopher Austin. "That is exactly why we are supporting the development of human tissue chip technology, which could be revolutionary in providing a faster, more cost-effective way of predicting the failure or success of drugs prior to investing in human clinical trials."

The $17 million will fund the first year of these projects, and more funding may be awarded over the following two years if it is available, NIH said.

The Tissue Chip for Drug Screening initiative is a collaboration between NIH, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, and the US Food and Drug Administration. NIH has pledged nearly $76 million to fund the five-year effort, which launched in 2012.

Over its first two years, researchers developed individual human tissue chips that demonstrated organ functionality, mimicked biological responses, and generated more accurate data than connectional cell and animal-based testing methods, NIH said. These chips represent the heart, liver, blood-brain barrier, blood vessels, kidney, gastrointestinal and nervous systems, adipose, and tumor models.

Individually, these chips may be used to study single tissue and organ responses. When they are integrated into "a human-like system" the chips will make it possible to measure drug effects in real-time, across various organs and tissues, according to NIH.

During the upcoming phase of the initiative, scientists will focus more effort on using induced pluripotent stem cells as renewable cell sources for their systems, and one goal of the program is to create a single iPSC line that can differentiate and mature into all major organ systems in the human body.

This round of awards will fund research at Columbia University Health Sciences to develop integrated heart-liver-vascular systems for drug testing; Duke University for circulatory system and integrated muscle-tissue for toxicity testing; Harvard University for a human cardio-pulmonary system chip; Massachusetts Institute of Technology for a human microphysical model of metastasis therapy; Morgridge Institute for Research at the University of Wisconsin–Madison for human-iPSC and embryonic stem cell-based models for predicting neural toxicity and teratogenicity; Northwestern University for ex vivo female productive tract integration in a 3-D microphysiologic system; the University of California, Berkeley for disease-specific integrated microphysiological human tissue models; the University of Pittsburgh for a 3-D biomimetic liver sinusoid construct for predicting physiology and toxicity; the University of Washington for a tissue-engineered human kidney microphysiological system; Vanderbilt University for a neurovascular unit-on-a-chip; and Washington University for an integrated in vitro model of perfused tumor and cardiac tissue.