Biotechnology: From Tissue to Organ Safety Testing

Tissue testing new drugs for safety has been around for many years.  An old criticism of this approach is that it doesn’t reflect the impact of the potential drug on the entire spectrum of tissues and systems within the body.  The only way to test a drug in that manner today is animal or human testing.   An alternative appears to be coalescing as advances in biologically engineered organs become more prevalent.  Organ system testing comes closer every day as researchers push forward to create organs from patient tissue.  As scientists and engineers have become more familiar with growing tissues in three dimensional scaffolds organ structures are being created from a patient’s own cells which have the potential to mimic full function.   One laboratory, Wake Forest Institute of Regenerative Medicine, in particular exemplifies the possibilities as it pushes forward with research to grow livers, kidneys, ears, etc.  Although not strictly focused on developing organs for safety testing the advances being researched and demonstrated in this laboratory and Armed Forces Institute of Regenerative Medicine,  suggest the full range of biologically engineered organs and systems that will be available in the future.

Although not for the squeamish it doesn’t take much imagination to envision a testing laboratory filled with organs of all the major systems.  Connected by a biologically engineered vascular system this multiple organ testing platform would take its place in the FDA testing regimen potentially reducing the amount of animal testing and leaving human testing for the most promising drugs.

Although it is easy to imagine this approach would likely be very expensive to develop and maintain.  Launching the such a testing system commercially would be fraught with many ethical, technical, regulatory and scientific challenges.  Still it doesn’t hurt to start thinking about how it would come together.  Single organ and smaller subsystem safety testing platforms could be stepping stones to a full system.  The technology used to monitor and maintain these smaller testing platforms would potentially provide valuable information stream for the developing biological systems engineering field and vice-versa.

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