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Everything on a Chip

With enough 'organs on a chip' a sort of 'body on a chip' may one day soon be available for testing of drugs, the Economist reports.

"Animals are not necessarily good analogues for humans because of fundamental differences in biology. Testing on tissue in a dish can likewise prove unreliable because its cells often stop working," it says. "The more realistic data promised by organs-on-a-chip could accelerate drug development and allow researchers to carry out experiments too risky for human volunteers."

Organs on a chip — a polymer containing structures for cells to grow on and microfluidics to wash nutrients over them — arrange themselves similarly to cells in the body and could decently mimic how cells respond to drugs and other stimuli, the Economist says.

CN Bio's liver chip, for instance, can hold 12 faux livers for testing, and the company is testing a version that would include 36 livers. At the same time, other companies are developing chips to represent hearts, lungs, and other organs.

DARPA, the Economist notes, would like to see at least 10 organ systems to be available on chips for testing; this military interest stems from the need to have treatments in case of nuclear or biological incidents, which are difficult to study in people.