Non-animal research methods in the media

Over the last weeks articles about the development of research methods with the potential to replace animal models have caught my eye: One about bio-engineered muscles and two that report on new developments of organs-on-chips.

Tattooed man with a child. Source: Wikimedia/Jason Regan

Tattooed man with a child. Source: Wikimedia/Jason Regan

Bio-engineered muscles

Researchers at Duke University have created lab-grown human skeletal muscles that contract in response to electrical and other stimuli. They say the tissue works like regular muscles, but in a dish.

This model could be used in testing drugs for muscle diseases such as different muscular dystrophies, genetic metabolic diseases … and even diseases such as diabetes.

It could also be used to take cells from a patient, create functioning muscles in the lab and test various drugs to determine which drug and what drug dose would work best for that individual. It’s a new method that does not rely on animal testing.

Tissue chips

Researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison who work with tissue chips say these could replace animal studies. This project is funded by the U.S. National Institutes of Health and is part of the Tissue Chip for Drug Screening program. The UW-Madison researchers focus on brain cells.

Tissue chips are

clusters of interacting cells that mimic specific organs, such as a model of a developing brain. Using stem cells, miniature scaffolds and sophisticated computer programs, they’re crafting prototypes that could someday replace animal testing for drugs and serve as screening tools for environmental toxins.

With neural stem cells and hydrogels the researchers formed multilayered structures similar to the early human brain. With these tissue chips they tested 35 known toxins, such as arsenic and benzene, and 26 non-toxins, including arabinose and lactose. They found their system to be 93 percent accurate in predicting toxicity. This is much better than animal models, as nine out of ten new drugs that are safe and effective in animals fail in humans.

Mini synthetic organism instead of test animals

Researchers at the German Fraunhofer Institute have developed a multi-organ chip that replicates complex metabolic processes in the human body. The new chip can be used to test the active ingredients in new medications and cosmetics.

More on organs-on-a chip in these three video clips (though they’re not new):

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