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FDA Funds Organ-on-Chip to Test Radiation Disease Treatments

Gut-on-a-chip (Wyss Institute, Harvard University)

Gut-on-a-chip (Wyss Institute, Harvard University)

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration awarded a contract to a Harvard University lab for simulated organ devices to test radiation disease countermeasures. The $5.6 million award will fund the work of Harvard’s Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering from FDA’s research and development program on regulatory science and medical countermeasures initiative.

Wyss Institute researchers, supported by the Vascular Biology Program at Boston Children’s Hospital, will develop devices about the size of flash memory sticks that simulate human physiological responses to acute radiation syndrome, a serious disease where all or most of the human body is exposed to a high dose of radiation. Symptoms include loss of appetite, fatigue, fever, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and possibly seizures and coma, as well as skin damage.

Organs-on-chips — microfluidic devices lined with human cells — offer an alternative to animal tests, which may not accurately reflect human physiology, as well as raising ethical issues. Under the contract, Wyss Institute is expected to develop models of radiation damage in organs-on-chips representing the lung, gut, and bone marrow, with the models then put to use testing proposed treatments as countermeasures to radiation exposure during in an emergency or even from an overdose of cancer radiation therapy.

The institute says the lung, intestine, and bone marrow chips are built with manufacturing techniques similar to those for fabricating computer microchips. The three organs are most susceptible to radiation’s toxicity. Exposure to airborne particulates can affect the lungs, and the high cell turnover rates can impact the gut and bone marrow.

Wyss Institute already created working models or prototypes for all three devices. The lung chip expands and retracts while breathing, while the gut-on-a-chip simulates the wave-like contraction and relation of muscles. The bone marrow chip works differently: the researchers form an entire bone with tissue engineering, then extract the bone marrow for insertion into a microfluidic chip.

Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and National Institutes of Health are also supporting development of organs-on-chips at the Wyss Institute.

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