Researchers in Seattle, WA, lead by Dr. Jonathan Himmelfarb, have recently been awarded part of a $70 million research grant to develop 3 dimensional chips that mimic living organs such as the lung or heart. The Seattle group is among 17 such awards, and their project will focus on the kidney. A main goal of the research is to develop chips that mimic the function of an organ system so that they can be used for drug safety testing prior to preliminary testing in humans.
From the UW press release, “The NIH pointed to studies that show that more than 30 percent of promising medications have failed in human clinical trials because the drugs were found to be toxic, despite pre-clinical studies in animal models. Tissue chips may offer more accurate predictions of the side effects of potential therapeutic agents because they contain human cells.”
The Seattle project is titled, A tissue-engineered human kidney micro physiological system. From the NCATS website, ”There is a critical need to be able to model human organ systems, such as the kidney, to improve understanding of drug efficacy and safety, as well as toxicity, during drug development. The goal of this project is to develop a model system that predicts drug handling (especially drug excretion and kidney toxicity) in the human kidney, emulating healthy and disease-related conditions.” In addition, the 3-D chip may also prove useful for understanding how toxins and infections diseases produce kidney injury.
Dr. Jonathan Himmelfarb is a professor within University of Washington’s Department of Medicine, Division of Nephrology, and is the director of the Kidney Research Institute. The project will combine biology, engineering, and computer science. Interdisciplinary in nature, the research team will range from physicians and pharmacists, to bioengineers and computer programmers, and bring together multiple colleges and schools across the UW campus. For this project, the UW researchers will partner with the biotechnology start-up company Nortis.
The award is funded by the new National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS) of the National Institutes of Health in a collaboration with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. 10 awards will focus of development of 3-D tissue chip systems that each represent a specific human organ system. 7 other awards will focus on developing a cellular source that can be used to populate these tissue chips. NCATS’s mission: “…to catalyze the generation of innovative methods and technologies that will enhance the development, testing and implementation of diagnostics and therapeutics across a wide range of human diseases and conditions.”