New Cancer Research Technique Could Replace Lab Animals

Innovative human tissue chips may soon be a welcome substitute.

Mar 15, 2021


New Cancer Research Technique Could Replace Lab Animals | Innovative human tissue chips may soon be a welcome substitute.

Here’s some encouraging news for people with cancer, animal lovers, and laboratory animals.  A university research team has pioneered a new method when researching cancer treatments that doesn’t rely on animal testing and with the potential to optimize and fast- track the development of new drugs.

For years, people opposed to animal testing have emphasized how using animals to test new drugs is scientifically flawed as well as the cause of suffering to sentient beings. They point out that the animals often fail to replicate the response in humans due to their very different genetics, physiology and metabolism.

Professor Yaakov Nahmias, leading the team of scientists at the Grass Center for Bioengineering at the Hebrew University, Jerusalem, who has introduced this new approach, is one of these voices:

“Drug development is a long and expensive endeavor that is defined by multiple failures. The main reason for this failure is that clinical experiments are ultimately based on minimal information gained from animal experiments which often fail to replicate the human response," he is quoted as saying in a news release.

So Nahmias’s team have come up with “human-on-a-chip” technology. This uses human tissues in a device which more closely mimics our metabolism. Their research, recently published in the peer-reviewed journal, Science Translational Medicine, took an existing human tissue technique but updated it.

How did they do this? They incorporated microscopic sensors into the human tissue from the kidney, liver and heart, allowing them to more precisely monitor the body’s response to particular drug treatments. As Nahmias explains, this enables them to secure real time information on when drugs work and when they stop working . This surpasses “what was ever possible with animal experimentation,” he adds.

Using this “bionic chip” tech, the team was able to show that the side effect of a frequently used cancer treatment, cisplatin, a hazardous build-up of fat in the kidneys, could be alleviated if it is paired with empaglifozin. This is a drug that curbs the absorption of sugar in the kidneys, so reducing the build-up of fat.

Nahmias envisions this new technology as one with “the potential to significantly reduce the testing and production time for drugs, while also avoiding the need to test animals in the lab,” saving time, money and “certainly unnecessary suffering.”

Using this new process, the team were able to fit their research into an eight-month period, skipping several years of animal testing.

Crucially too, according to Nahmias, as these chips have the potential to mimic the human body more exactly than animals, this groundbreaking technology could soon raise the accuracy of drug development in general.

For members of the team and their biotech startup, Tissue Dynamic, the next step in their cancer research is clinical testing and the eventual approval of their specific regimen as a new way to treat cancer.

Longer term, they hope that they can set a precedent for the development of new drug therapies using human tissue on a chip to circumvent animal testing.

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Daphne has a background in editing, writing and global trends. She is inspired by trends seeing more people care about sharing and protecting resources, enjoying experiences over products and celebrating their unique selves. Making the world a better place has been a constant motivation in her work.