Moving into the next era with organs on chips

November 16, 2016

Last month proved to be an exciting month for progress in organs-on-chips. 

The potential for organs-on-chips to revolutionize research and drug development while moving away from animals continues to grow impressively.

The tiny devices, no bigger than a computer memory stick, are lined with living human cells in a miniaturized biological environment that can simulate real physiology. The result is a compact system that can predict human medical responses with greater precision than animal tests.


The Wyss Institute, one of the leaders in the development of organ chips, announced three new chips last in October 2016: a 3D beating heart, a smoking lung on a chip, and a chip that can model muscular dystrophy.


Click here to watch the bioprinting heart-on-a-chip

The beating heart chip is entirely 3D printed and includes sensors which measure the strength of heart muscle contraction, along with multiple wells allowing the study of numerous drugs and tissues simultaneously. This enables the chip to study long-term effects of a drug which is nearly impossible using animals.

The smoking lung on a chip is a novel and life-like imitation of inhaled cigarette smoke, unlike animal studies which place them into a smoke-filled chamber.  While it is already known that smoking causes lung damage, the chip elucidates the precise mechanism of smoking’s affect on human lung tissue, improving research into the effects of second-hand smoke on non-smokers, COPD and health impact of e-cigarettes.

chip to study muscular dystrophy, created from stem cells of actual patients, models the deficits in muscle strength characteristic of the disease. The chip shows promise to succeed in developing treatments where decades of animal research has failed.

Other recent advances in organs-on-chips are moving us into a new era for replacing animals in research.

Biotech firm, Emulate, Inc. is teaming up with pharmaceutical and research companies to use Emulate’s organ-chips along with a “plug-and-play” software package to allow companies to customize their research.

Last month Emulate announced it has entered a partnership with Covance Drug Development, one of the world’s largest contract research companies using animals. To see Covance now exploring organs-on-chips demonstrates how promising this technology has become for replacing animals.


Emulate also announced a new collaboration with the Ellison Institute at University of Southern California to use organ-chips to advance cancer research, demonstrating how the chips are moving from drug development and into disease research.

Covance and USC now join the impressive list of Emulate partners that includes Johnson & Johnson, Merck, and the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Disease.

As pharmaceutical and R&D companies acknowledge the high failure rate of drug development and disease research due to animal tests, the tide is beginning to turn. 

Organs-on-chips offer a way to produce human-centered results at much lower cost and without the suffering and deaths of millions of animals each year.


Citizens for Alternatives to Animal Research (CAARE), is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, established to highlight and promote research without animals.


Please donate to support CAARE’s mission to end animal suffering by disseminating information about the power and progress of research without animals.