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Wake Forest Leads $24M Effort to Develop 'Body on a Chip' to Protect Against Warfare

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center is leading an effort to develop a so-called "body on a chip" that can be used to test the effectiveness of therapies against agents of chemical or biological attacks, the center said on Tuesday.

The effort is funded by a $24 million contract from the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center, Pacific on behalf of the Defense Threat Reduction Agency with a goal of building a miniaturized system of human organs that can mimic how the body responds to harmful agents, such as the Ebola virus and ricin, and help in the development of potential therapies.

Along with Wake Forest, the in the project includes Brigham and Women's Hospital, which will provide expertise in micro- and nanoscale bioengineering devices for controlling cellular behavior; the University of Michigan, which has expertise in creating microscale models of the body and biomolecular devices and technologies for high-throughput drug testing; the US Army Edgewood Chemical Biological Center, which will provide chemical warfare agent research, development, engineering, and testing; Morgan State University, which is providing laboratory testing of cell cultures for the identification of the ideal blood surrogate; and The Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, which has expertise in toxicity testing and identification.

The project participants will create organ-like structures with human cells that mimic the functions of the heart, liver, lung, and blood vessels. The structures will be placed on two-inch chips connected to a system of fluid channels and sensors, which will allow individual organs and the overall organ system to be monitored online.

According to Wake Forest, the project is one of the first efforts that combines several organs on the same device to model human response to chemical toxins and/or biological agents, although culturing 3D human tissue on a chip is not a new concept.

"If successful, the platforms established under the eX Vivo Capabilities for Evaluation and Licensure (X.C.E.L.) program would significantly decrease the time and cost needed to develop medical countermeasures which would have a direct and positive affect on the ability of the United States government to respond to a chemical or biological attack," Clint Florence, acting branch chief of vaccines within the Translational Medical Division at DTRA, said in a statement.

"A long-term goal of this research is to explore the potential for this technology to reduce the overall burden of in vivo testing in the development and management of products for human use by accurately predicting human safety, efficacy and pharmacokinetics of candidate medical countermeasures," he added.

Wake Forest said the body on a chip approach could reduce animal testing, which in addition to being slow and expensive may not always be applicable to humans.