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New 3D Printed Device May Remove Need for Animal Drug Testing

A 3D printed chip which mimics human organ systems may allow for drugs to one day be tested without harming animals.

Pharmaceuticals are often if not always tested on animals before ever being administered to humans, though many drugs never make it that far in the process. In fact, when I interviewed Willy Myco the notorious YouTube educator on all things shroom-growing, he told me that he left a high-ranking position with a top pharmaceutical company to pursue YouTube content creation because he saw a room full of animals in cages who were slated to be incinerated after the tests were complete. 

This practice may eventually be a thing of the past thanks to a particular new invention created by in vitro pharmacology p.H.D. student Liam Carr and his fellow researchers at the University of Edinburgh. The 3D-printed device, which loosely resembles a translucent Connect-4 set, is referred to as a “body-on chip” and reportedly is able to replicate the way different medicines move through the human body by utilizing a process known as positron emission tomography or “PET scanning.” This essentially means that small radioactive chemicals are sent into the device which transmit images to small cameras. 

“This device is the first to be designed specifically for measuring drug distribution, with an even flow paired with organ compartments that are large enough to sample drug uptake for mathematical modeling, Carr said to the Guardian. “Essentially, allowing us to see where a new drug goes in the body and how long it stays there, without having to use a human or animal to test it.”

Now while this all may be too fancy of medical language for this humble journalist to fully grasp, Carr said the way the device works almost perfectly matches the rates at which drugs are taken in by different organ systems, allowing for accurate mathematical data to be gathered without the need for humans or animals to actually take the drug. 

“Using mathematic modeling, we have found that the rate of transfer into the organ compartments and the uptake of nutrients in vitro mimics in vivo organ results,” Carr said in a University of Edinburgh press release. “It’s been really exciting to be able to use PET imaging to modify the device and produce even flow through all organ compartments.”

According to PETA, over 110 million animals including “mice, rats, frogs, dogs, cats, rabbits, hamsters, guinea pigs, monkeys, fish, and birds” are killed every year in pharmaceutical testing. Many of these animals are subjected to barbaric forms of what most humans would consider torture as well including having holes drilled in their skulls, being forced to inhale toxic fumes, being immobilized in restraints for several hours at a time to name a few. Carr’s supervisor said in a press release that this new device could drastically reduce that number of animals over time, especially considering that a very low percentage of drugs actually progress past animal trials. 

“This device shows really strong potential to reduce the large number of animals that are used worldwide for testing drugs and other compounds, particularly in the early stages, where only 2% of compounds progress through the discovery pipeline,” said Carr’s supervisor Dr Adriana Tavares of the University’s Centre for Cardiovascular Science.

Carr and his fellow researchers have received funding in the form of £260,000 (which equates to a little over $287,000 USD) from the Medical Research Council to continue testing the device using sterile materials. The device can also reportedly be used to test other substances beyond pharmaceuticals such as aerosols, food and household products. 

“We’re delighted to be supporting Liam and the CVS team in the development of this ‘body-on-chip’, and we look forward to seeing the impact this novel device has on testing and progression of new compounds and drugs in the future,” said Dr Susan Bodie, Head of Business Development for the College of Medicine and Veterinary Medicine at Edinburgh Innovations.

It was not immediately clear based on the press release when/if the device may be distributed or when, if ever, the number of animals used in experiments may begin to dwindle but as with all things medicine it is safe to assume it will be a little while before use of this device becomes widespread. But for the sake of the animals, consider my fingers crossed. 

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