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A Model Organ

Organs-on-chips are catching the attention of pharmaceutical companies as a way to test drugs that are in development, though some worry that the hope for the technology is getting ahead of the reality, Nature News reports.

"We're surprised at how rapidly the technology has come along," Dashyant Dhanak, global head of discovery sciences at Johnson & Johnson, says. J&J, Nature News adds, has said that it will be using Emulate's thrombosis-on-chip model to test if experimental drugs and drugs already on the market cause blood clots.

Nature News notes that while some companies are using such chips to simulate the effects of drugs on diseased organs, others are testing whether drugs behave the same on the chips as they do in healthy human tissues. The thought is that such chips could eventually replace animal models.

A challenge, it adds, will be to string together many such chips to gauge how a drug affects various organs, as researchers might not know where else to look, while another will be to capture the full complexity of an organ system.

"As a pharma company, you have to be very pragmatic," Adrian Roth, head of in vitro safety research at Roche in Switzerland, tells Nature News. He adds that drug makers and researchers can't expect organ-on-chips to immediately replace animal models.