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Challenge Seeks Animal-Free Testing for Precision Meds.


Bioprinting (Phillip Ezze, Wikimedia Commons.

20 Sept. 2022. A charitable foundation promoting research on human longevity unveiled a challenge competition to develop animal-free testing for personalized medicine. David Gobel, CEO of Methuselah Foundation, announced the $1 million challenge today at the Longevity Summit in Dublin, Ireland, but few other details of the competition are available for participants.

Methuselah Foundation, based in Springfield, Virginia, funds research on human longevity and invests in companies developing technologies supporting that goal. The Animal Free Precision Medicine Innovation Prize, as the competition is called, aims to encourage development of alternatives to animal testing of new drugs that the foundation says adds to the extended time and cost of drug development. “Society can no longer afford the time and cost of bringing new drugs to market by relying on traditional animal testing,” says Gobel in a Methuselah Foundation statement released through Cision, “particularly as we are poised to make broad use of precision medicine to more effectively treat patients.”

Earlier in September, the foundation published a blog post identifying organs-on-chips as a promising alternative to animal testing for toxicity of new drugs. Organs-on-chips are three-dimensional models of organs on miniaturized platforms analogous to semiconductors, thus the reference to chips. In this case, an organ’s functions are simulated with microfluidics that provide fine channels and wells with engineered cells and tissue found in human organs. A review of organs-on-chips published in the journal Nature Reviews Methods Primers in May 2022 outlined a multitude of materials and processes for making the devices.

Focus on bioprinted tissue

The foundation’s blog post notes the proliferation of organizations and companies getting into organs-on-chips and calls for standards to ensure the devices work in predictable ways. The group’s statement suggests bioprinted human tissue is the favored technology, at least for this challenge. “We must accelerate use of bioprinted human tissue,” says Gobel in the foundation’s statement, “to eliminate the harm to animals and humans, improve clinical accuracy and speed our ability to deliver the best patient outcomes.”

Methuselah Foundation is offering $1 million in prize money to encourage new organ-on-chips for animal testing with bioengineered tissue. Chip devices entered in the competition should mimic functions of human organs and contribute to an eventual body-on-a-chip for drug development. Specific prizes, review processes, deadlines, and entry forms are not yet published, but a foundation spokesperson tells Science & Enterprise those details will be available shortly on the Methuselah Foundation web site.

The 6 Sept. blog post also notes the Food and Drug Administration “is evaluating this new testing technology” for its regulatory functions in drugs and food safety. In Oct. 2020, Science & Enterprise reported on an R&D agreement between FDA and the company Emulate Inc. in Boston for the company’s lung chip model to demonstrate mechanisms for immune system protection to prevent Covid-19 infections. In that agreement, the agency also planned to make use of Emulate’s brain, intestine, and liver chips.

Emulate Inc. is a spin-off enterprise from the Wyss Institute, a biomedical engineering center at Harvard University and a pioneer in organs-on-chips. However, organs-on-chips developed by Wyss Institute and Emulate use human cells to line microfluidic channels or organoids grown from adult stem cells, as well as bioprinted tissue.

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