Researchers have created what they say is the world's most sophisticated lab model of the human body: a system of mini-organs made from real human cells and stem cells.
While it may sound like attempts to make a miniature Frankenstein’s monster in a petri dish, the researchers are actually hoping to create an entire lab model of miniaturized human organs that could become invaluable for drug testing and biomedical research.
Reporting in the journal Biofabrication, scientists from Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine (WFIRM) in North Carolina created a human organ tissue system that features a miniature heart-like organ that beats about 60 times a minute, a “lung” that breathes the air from the surrounding environment, and a “liver” that breaks down toxic compounds, as well as “testicles” and a “colon”.
Although just one-millionth the size of a full-sized adult human organ, these “body-on-a-chip" systems are remarkably detailed, complete with their own blood vessel cells, immune system cells, and connective tissue cells. It also contains a “microfluidic circuit” that’s able to circulate a drug throughout the system between organs, just like how a cardiovascular system pumps molecules through the human body in the blood.
“Creating microscopic human organs for drug testing was a logical extension of the work we have accomplished in building human-scale organs,” said study co-author Thomas Shupe of WFIRM in a statement. “Many of the same technologies we have developed at the human-scale level, like including a very natural environment for the cells to live in, also produced excellent results when brought down to the microscopic level.”
Don't worry, this isn't scientists creating a tiny "artificial human" – the system is barely more than a load of blobs in a petri dish, not a conscious organism.
Organoids are invaluable tools for scientists looking to understand the human body. In one of the most incredible breakthroughs, researchers recently observed brain organoids that began to show signs of “brain waves” similar to those of preterm infants. It’s hoped this kind of research could be used to understand how brain cells develop into the intensely complex organ currently sitting in your head.
They are also extremely useful for testing new pharmaceutical drugs because they react, in theory, just as a real human organ would. Plus, they are safe and relatively low-cost. The newly developed miniature organ model has already been used for a number of tests to assess the toxicity of some drugs. In some instances, the organ model managed to show a drug might be dangerous or have some undesired effect, thereby potentially preventing harm to humans.