(CBS News) Cutting-edge "lung on a chip" technology is poised to revolutionize the way scientists test new drugs. The first-of-its kind device may be a faster, cheaper way to develop drugs and avoid the need to perform testing on animals.
The technology, as Dr. Donald Ingber, lead researcher and director of the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard, showed on "CBS This Morning," is a clear polymer chip that mimics the organ's function, as it is lined with living human cells inside hollow channels. He explained, "The cells come from the air sack of the lung and the blood capillaries of the lung. And just like it does in our lung, it actually can mimic whole organ functions."
Ingber said, "We actually have hollow channels that mimic the air sack of our lung; we have cells from a human air sack on top of a membrane with air on the opposite side of the membrane, just like in our lungs; we have capillary blood vessels with medium mimicking blood and flowing by. We can put white blood cells in, and then we can make it breathe. It actually stretches and relaxes. Doing all that, it actually mimics whole organ function."
The chip can mimic disease processes, such as fluid on the lungs and pulmonary edema. Ingber added, "We can put bacteria back in and actually mimic infections, and we can actually test drugs for both efficacy and toxicities, so essentially, over time to replace animal testing."
Other organ chips are in the works as well, according to Ingber. He said on "CTM," "We've got funding from the Department of Defense, FDA, NIH to develop over 10 different organs: kidney, heart, lung, gut, etc., and to link them together because they're little hollow channels that have flowing medium to mimic blood that we can connect them all by the same blood vessels like in our body, and so the idea is you can actually put an oral drug through the gut and watch it be broken down by the liver, peed out by the kidney, and ask, 'Does it have heart toxicity?' and also prevent fluid on the lungs."
For more with Ingber on the "lung on a chip," watch the video above.