Advanced search

Lung-on-a-chip device could reduce animal drug testing

US scientists have created a tiny device that simulates a working human lung and could reduce the need for animal drug testing.

The “lung-on-a-chip” contains hollow channels lined with living human cells that mimic the interface between the air sacks in the lung and the blood vessels beneath, allowing scientists to study the body’s response to lung infections and diseases.

The chip’s inventors at the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University have received an annual international prize for the device’s potential to gradually reduce the use of animals in drug testing.

‘We believe that our human breathing Lung-on-a-Chip, and other organ chips we have in development, represent a first wave of exciting new alternative approaches to animal testing that hopefully will change how drug development is carried out in the future,’ said Wyss director Dr Don Ingber.

‘This award helps to validate this radical new approach on the global stage, and to strengthen our resolve to work with government agencies and pharmaceutical companies that have been supporting our work to pursue this alternative approach to animal testing.’

The chip is about the size of a USB memory stick and is made from a clear, flexible polymer, with channels inside created using microchip fabrication techniques.

Two of the channels are separated into two halves by a porous membrane with human lung cells on one side and blood vessel cells on the other.

A vacuum is then applied to smaller channels either side of the main conduits, causing the tissue interface to deform and drawing air across the simulated lung surface. A blood sample is also passed through the artificial capillary below the membrane.

This has enabled the scientists to study how white blood cells migrate through the lung interface and attack bacteria when an infection is introduced.

Because the device simulates very closely the environment of a real lung, it could allow researchers to test new drugs with much more accuracy than is currently available with lab technology and without the use of animal testing.

The prize was awarded by UK’s National Centre for the Replacement, Refinement and Reduction of Animals in Research (NC3Rs)

‘This technology may be the beginning of a revolution of the systems used to model human disease and test drugs, with great potential to reduce the need for animals,’ said NC3Rs chief executive Dr Vicky Robinson.

‘By recognising it with our 3Rs Prize, we hope to expose it to the UK’s scientific community and encourage further research in this area.’

The researchers are also working on nine other organs-on-chips with the aim of creating a human body-on-a-chip.

Readers' comments (3)

  • Anyone who has carried out testing on animals can only welcome such a needed breakthrough. It is urgently needed!

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • I concur most heartily with the post above, animal testing is something which must be gradually refined, reduced and replaced but not until the alternatives are rock solid and validated. We mustn't rush towards this as the abolitionists call for. In the UK we have started a petition to challenge the intimidation of hauliers by animal rights activists so that vital medical research can continue to take place in the UK (the country with the original and most stringent laws on research animal usage).

    The anonymous HM Gov petition is @

    What are KRA's key principles?

    Keep Research Afloat was started to ensure that animals transported for research into the UK arrive by the fastest route possible to minimise stress to the animals – ferries are essential and the reinstatement of animal transport by ferry and airline companies who have been targeted by activist groups is a priority

    Keep Research Afloat also supports a reduction in the number of breeding animals needed for research, by supporting transport of animals from a single breeding colony to the country of research, rather than maintaining multiple breeding colonies in different countries due to limited transport of animals.

    Keep Research Afloat supports animal research for the future development of human and veterinary science (cosmetic testing is not supported, and has been banned in the UK since 1998).

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • Indeed this is a much needed breakthrough. Every single year a lot of animals have been killed because of chemical tests that's why this kind of practice must be stopped.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

Have your say


My saved stories (Empty)

You have no saved stories

Save this article