Researchers at Hesperos, Inc., a biotech firm based in Florida, have collaborated with Roche and the University of Central Florida to develop a multi-organ lab-on-a-chip system for drug testing. The device includes human organ-derived tissue constructs that allow for the efficacy and side-effects of anti-cancer drugs in various organs to be tested in a way that does not involve laboratory animals. The technique is another step for lab-on-a-chip devices in making preclinical testing easier, less expensive, and more humane.
Lab-on-a-chip devices for drug testing are an active area of research, with numerous devices being reported in recent years. The promise of such technology is substantial, as it could drastically reduce the need for laboratory animal testing for new drug compounds and could make such testing faster and less expensive. In the future, the technology could provide drug safety and efficacy data that are more relevant to human patients than those achieved using experimental animals.
Given the enormous sums of money spent by large pharmaceutical companies on drug testing, some are taking an interest in developing such technology. Roche was involved in the research behind this latest device, which contains multiple human organ-derived tissue constructs grown on microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) , and circulating serum-free medium. The device allows researchers to test the tissue response to anti-cancer drugs, either alone or in combination, and assess both efficacy and safety at the same time.
For instance, in testing the device, the researchers showed that diclofenac, an anticancer drug, inhibited the growth of cancer-derived bone marrow cells at a specific concentration, but also reduced the viability of liver cells by 30%, indicating that such a dose may not be safe for humans. Often, the primary goal of such testing is to determine the therapeutic index of a tested compound, which indicates the range of drug concentrations in which a drug can have a therapeutic effect, without causing substantial toxicity.
“This is a game changer in the preclinical drug development process, which normally requires an animal model to measure therapeutic index, and in the case of many rare diseases requires testing in humans as there are no animal models available,” said James Hickman, a researcher involved in the study. “In addition, our system will allow testing of different therapies on small samples of a specific cancer patient’s tissue to help inform doctors about which treatment works best for each individual.”
Study in Science Translational Medicine: Multi-organ system for the evaluation of efficacy and off-target toxicity of anticancer therapeutics