Animal research

Body-on-a-chip research aims to reduce animal use in drug screening

Researchers have received funding for a PhD student to take forward a project aimed at developing a new tool that can quickly screen experimental drug compounds in the early stages of drug development.

The tool aims to mimic multiple aspects of human cells and metabolism to screen drug compounds and help identify those that might have therapeutic potential. It also aims to help identify those that may have harmful effects, so they can be eliminated from further testing.

High attrition

Drug discovery pipelines can be lengthy, expensive and prone to a high degree of attrition with few drug candidates successfully reaching the market. Animal testing is used to select lead drug candidates that have the best chances of success in first-in-man clinical studies and to reduce the risk of exposing people to potentially harmful drugs.

At the earliest stages of drug development, however, using animals is expensive and impractical when handling large libraries of prospective drug candidates. It can also have a low scientific value for a high number of animals used.

Screening technique

The new project will investigate whether drugs can be efficiently screened by combining two techniques that are designed to model how chemical compounds interact with molecules and cells inside the human body.

First, compounds will be screened and ranked according to their physical and chemical properties and how they bind to human proteins using a technology called biomimetic chromatography.

Second, the compounds will be screened to identify how they interact with various components of human cells using an approach called body-on-chip technology.

Pilot study

With funding from the National Centre for the Replacement, Refinement and Reduction of Animals in Research (NC3Rs), the team has recruited a PhD student to pilot the use of the new tool using drugs that have already been tested in people. The student will compare their results with findings from previous human studies to check that the new tool works and can successful predict which compounds are likely to have therapeutic potential.

If it is successful, the new tool could also aid efforts to repurpose existing medications by helping to check if they might have any effect in other disease areas.

The NC3Rs’ PhD studentship was jointly awarded with Unilever and the researchers are collaborating with TissUse GmbH on the project.

We are absolutely delighted to have been awarded this PhD studentship and we look forward to work with our project partners to develop better methods to study drug distribution and kinetics by coupling body-on-chip platforms with biomimetic chromatography measures.

Dr Adriana TavaresResearch Fellow in PET Imaging, Centre for Cardiovascular Science

Related links

Read more on the NC3Rs website

Centre for Cardiovascular Science