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Researchers in Israel and Germany develop potential alternative to animal testing


By David Schwartz
Published: September 9th, 2015

Researchers at Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Fraunhofer Institute for Cell Therapy and Immunology in Germany have developed a technology that could put an end to live animal testing.

On top of opposition from animal rights groups, more scientists are claiming that animal studies do not accurately predict the human response to drugs or beauty products, especially ones that are used on a regular basis. At the same time, using human cells for safety testing is not practical because they die after a few days outside of the body.

To address this challenge, the researchers have created a liver-on-a-chip device, also known as a 3D micro-reactor, which mimics human physiology using nanotech-based optoelectronic sensors.

“The liver organs we created were less than a millimeter in diameter and survive for more than a month,” says professor Yaakov Nahmias, the project’s lead researcher and director of Hebrew University’s Alexander Grass Center for Bioengineering.

“We realized that because we are building the organs ourselves, we are not limited to biology and could introduce electronic and optical sensors to the tissue itself,” Nahmias says. “Essentially, we are building bionic organs on a chip.”

When testing Tylenol using the technology’s sensors, the researchers were able to detect small, rapid changes in cellular respiration that have never been observed before – suggesting potential damage at much smaller dosages than had previously been observed. Scientists had long believed that liver damage from acetaminophen only occurs at high doses and in cases of diseased or compromised liver function.

“This is a fascinating study,” says professor Oren Shibolet, head of the liver unit at Tel-Aviv Sourasky Medical Center. “Up until now, we didn’t really understand the mechanisms of such an effect. This new technology provides exceptional insight into drug toxicity and could in fact transform current practice.”

Yissum, the tech transfer arm of Hebrew University, together with the Fraunhofer Institute, submitted a joint provisional patent application earlier this year and are seeking industry partners to take the liver-on-a-chip to market. The global market for this technology is estimated to be worth $17 billion by 2018.

Source: Israel 21c

Posted under: Tech Transfer e-News

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