Editor’s Note: “Major pharmaceutical companies spend a lot of time and a huge amount of money on cell cultures and animal testing to develop new drugs, but these methods often fail to predict the effects of these agents when they reach humans,” Dr. Donald Ingber
Sources: Chicago Tribune, Disclose.tv, Harvard, Extremetech.com, Goldsea.com
CHICAGO (Reuters) – U.S. researchers have begun testing drugs using a microchip lined with living cells that replicates many of the features of a human lung, a technology that may one day help improve drug testing and reduce researchers’ dependence on animal studies.
Dan Huh, a bio engineer and geneticist at Harvard’s Wyss Institute, has successfully stored 5.5 petabytes of data — around 700 terabytes — in a single gram of DNA, smashing the previous DNA data density record by a thousand times. It’s a bionic device that facilitates research by mimicking conditions in a distressed living human lung.
The most remarkable aspect of the so-called “lung-on-a-chip” is that it actually provided unanticipated insights by replicating distressed conditions that would be impossible to create in a living human subject and difficult to replicate in animal subjects.
Huh’s study sought to use the lung chip to replicate the conditions of pulmonary edema in which the lungs fill with fluid and blood clots. The condition can be caused either by heart failure or by the side effects of a common cancer drug. The researchers injected the cancer drug into the chip’s blood-vessel channel and found that fluid and blood plasma proteins leaked across the membrane into the air channel — just as they would in patients experiencing the drug’s side effects.
The study produced two surprise discoveries. First, the leakage as not caused by the immune system — which wasn’t represented in the study — as previously thought. Second, when the vacuum system was switched on to replicate the breathing effect, the leakage worsened — a previously unsuspected aspect of pulmonary edema.
Fast and easy to understand- watch this now. And remember, this is actually happening on a computer chip!
The work for Huh’s device, carried out by George Church and Sri Kosuri, basically treats DNA as just another digital storage device. Instead of binary data being encoded as magnetic regions on a hard drive platter, strands of DNA that store 96 bits are synthesized, with each of the bases (TGAC) representing a binary value (T and G = 1, A and C = 0).
To read the data stored in DNA, you simply sequence it — just as if you were sequencing the human genome — and convert each of the TGAC bases back into binary
(It’s also worth noting that it’s possible to store data in the DNA of living cells — though only for a short time. Storing data in your skin would be a fantastic way of transferring data securely!)
“Major pharmaceutical companies spend a lot of time and a huge amount of money on cell cultures and animal testing to develop new drugs, but these methods often fail to predict the effects of these agents when they reach humans,” Dr. Donald Ingber, whose study was published on Wednesday in Science Translational Medicine, said in a statement.
Now the Wyss team is putting its artificial lung to the test, using the device to recreate pulmonary edema, a condition that causes fluid to leak into the air sacs of the lungs, and then treating it with an experimental drug from GlaxoSmithKline. The device, which is about the size of a memory stick, is made of a flexible polymer that contains hollow channels.
These channels are divided by a thin, permeable membrane lined on one side with human lung cells and on the other with tiny blood vessel or capillary cells that are bathed in fluid to simulate blood flow. A vacuum is applied to recreate the way human tissue stretches during breathing.
Dr. Geraldine Hamilton, co-author on the paper and the senior lead for the organs on chips program at Wyss, said the study is “providing us with a very exciting proof of concept for our ability to use organs on chips to create human disease models. ” When the team turned on the vacuum to simulate breathing, fluid leakage increased, suggesting that breathing may make the condition worse. “We learned more about the mechanisms by which this happens. Than really wouldn’t have been possible through an animal model,” Hamilton said.
The team next used their model to test a new class of drug being developed by GlaxoSmithKline. They found that treating the tissues in the device with the Glaxo drug before exposure prevented blood vessel leakage in the device.
To confirm this finding, Kevin Thorneloe, a scientist at GlaxoSmithKline, did a parallel study in which he tested the drug in the lungs of rodents and dogs with pulmonary edema caused by heart failure and found the drug improved lung function and reduced leakage, consistent with the chip finding.
In July, Wyss entered a $37 million agreement with the U.S. defense department to help develop 10 engineered organs, all linked into one system. The idea is to replicate a human body on a chip, which could be used to rapidly assess responses to new drugs and potential chemical threats.
Looking forward, they foresee a world where biological storage would allow us to record anything and everything without reservation. Today, we wouldn’t dream of blanketing every square meter of Earth with cameras, and recording every moment for all eternity/human posterity — we simply don’t have the storage capacity.
There is a reason that backed up data is usually only kept for a few weeks or months — it just isn’t feasible to have warehouses full of hard drives, which could fail at any time. If the entirety of human knowledge — every book, uttered word, and funny cat video — can be stored in a few hundred kilos of DNA, though… well, it might just be possible to record everything (hello, police state!)
Earlier device using DNA as storage medium
As a Wyss Institute fellow Dan Huh is currently focusing on the development of novel bioinspired/biomimetic microsystems that can reproduce the integrated structure and function of human organs. The study on the lung chip, published in Science Translational Medicine, is the first definitive demonstration that the organ-mimicking chips can be used to model the effects of disease and as a test bed for drug candidates, instead of poisoning innocent animals.