The Living Micro-chip

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Medical technology is one of the most diverse and fascinating fields of study out there. From new ways to integrate devices with biology to technology that can literally save lives, there’s no end to the innovations appearing from scientists and engineers. And this newest invention may be the most exciting one yet: a microchip that can be combined with living human cells.

Experts at Harvard University’s Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering have combined biological and technological components in a way no one has yet imagined. Human organs on a chip have existed for some time now (at least on the cellular level), but these new microchips take this concept even further. Made from a clear flexible polymer, the chip has hollow microfluid channels scored in it. These channels are then lined with actual living human cells. The cells are combined with an interface called endothelium. Endothelium is a tissue that serves as a liner for the interior surface of blood and lymphatic vessels within the body.

This lining serves a singular and vital purpose: it mimics the functions and microarchitecture of a variety of human organs. From intestines, bone marrow, and skin to lungs, kidneys, and blood-brain barrier: all can be emulated thanks to this combination of technology and biology. The end result is an invention that allows you to test a variety of medications and even study deadly diseases — all without risking harm to a human patient.

But what if you want to see the whole body’s reaction to a specific disease or treatment? These microchips have you covered there too: scientists can connect a series of up to 10 biologically-based chips together, allowing them to observe the interaction between these ‘organs.’

And that’s just the beginning: scientists are hard at work determining whether it’s possible to completely print a 3D an artificial organ on a chip, instead of just using the cells; a heretofore impossible feat. Experts believe it’s the next logical step from the organ-on-a-chip model they’re currently using. Scientists are now trying to commercialize their work, so as to have the funding needed to continue their vital research.

 

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