NEW HAVEN, Conn., Dec. 22 (UPI) -- Researchers at Harvard have created a lung-on-a-chip that allows lung cells to be grown from human samples and kept alive to help doctors understand individual health conditions and treat them.
The cells, mounted on an array, allow for lung inflammatory diseases to be studied over several weeks, an improvement of the Harvard scientists' previous human airway muscle-on-a-chip.
The new lung model is the latest organ-on-a-chip developed at Harvard's Wyss Institute, which has also developed kidney, lung, and heart models using human cells on "chips." The lab suggests the models could help decrease the amount of animal testing required for human health research.
"This novel ability to build small airway chips with cells from individual patients with diseases like COPD positions us and others now to investigate the effects of genetic variability, specific immune cell populations, pharmaceutical candidates and even pandemic viruses in an entirely new and more personalized was -- one that will hopefully increase the likelihood of success of future therapeutics," said Dr. Donald Ingber, founding director of the Wyss Institute, in a press release.
In a study published in Nature Methods, the researchers explain their design for the airway-on-a-chip, which features a fully matured human small airway epithelium with specialized cell types on one side, and a vascular endothelium on the other side to flow white blood cells and nutrients, keeping the "living microsystem" alive for weeks.
The researchers reported they can observe disease- and cell type-specific changes in the samples, and simulate viral and bacterial infections as well. In simulating conditions such as COPD and asthma, researchers also demonstrated the ability to observe biomarkers for disease and test drug treatments.
"This new organ-on-a-chip technology gives us a window on molecular-scale activities in the context of living human lung tissue," said Dr. Kambez Benam, a researcher at the Wyss Institute. "It also provides us with a handle to dissect contributions of specific cell types and biochemical factors to small airway diseases, including how circulating immune cells are recruited to inflammation sites and how compromised cilia function contributes to abnormal mucus clearance in the lungs of diseased patients."