Synthetic Human Organs Could End Medical Testing on Animals

Breaking news: This year's selection for Design of the Year by London's Design Museum could have far-reaching animal rights implications. The design? A "lung-on-a-chip" that replicates processes of human organs in a small, cruelty-free silicone chip. The "organs-on-chips," developed by Harvard's Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering, test the implications of new drugs on human systems without using literal or metaphorical guinea pigs. Scientists can observe the cellular processes occurring within the transparent chip, even linking up several of the "organs" to test a product's effect on multiple body systems at once. Not only could these inventions eliminate the need for animal testing, they could better predict what effect drugs and consumer products would have on actual humans. Wyss Institute Founding Director Don Ingber says of the chips' impact:

We now have a window on the molecular-scale activities going on in human organs, including things that happen in human cells that don’t occur in animals. Most drug companies get completely different results in dogs, cats, mice and humans, but now they will be able to test the specific effects of drugs with greater accuracy and speed.

This is the first time London's Design Museum has given the Design of the Year award to a project in the medical field. Looking at the "organs-on-chips," though, it's not hard to see why they stole the show. Not only do they provide leaps and bounds forward in the realm of safely testing human reactions to chemicals, but they are aesthetically breathtaking (no pun intended) in their simplicity and functionality, marrying art and science. In addition to the "lung-on-a-chip," the Wyss Institute has developed a "kidney-on-a-chip," "liver-on-a-chip," and "gut-on-a-chip," while "skin-on-a-chip" is currently in development.

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