Organ-Chips will change the way we understand human biology
Klaus Schwab, founder and chairman of the World Economic Forum, has called our era the “Fourth Industrial Revolution,” a period in which advances in the life sciences, communication, and transportation are happening rapidly thanks to the dramatic growth of computing power and connectivity.
Nobody knows where these developments will take us only a few decades from now, but the World Economic Forum believes that our Organ-Chips will play an important role in the revolution. Indeed, the Forum’s Meta-Council on Emerging Technologies selected Organ-Chips, along with self-driving cars, optogenetics, and next generation batteries as a few of the top innovations of 2016.
These technologies aren’t necessarily new. The idea of optogenetics, which is a way to control genetically modified neurons with light, was conceived decades ago. It’s only recently, however, that scientists have made significant advances in the precision and consistency of their experiments using the technique. Labs specializing in optogentics have shown that it can influence mood disorders like depression in mice. And it can even be used to stimulate or repress memories.
Self-driving cars are a bit less cerebral. An integrated network of vehicles driven autonomously can communicate in ways human drivers can’t. Robot vehicles will be able to avoid traffic and road closures, choose the fastest routes, and won’t be vulnerable to the distractions humans are tempted with. In the United States alone, there are 30,000 traffic deaths every year, many caused by distracted driving. Self-driving cars hold promise to reduce the number.
A major challenge for the renewable energy sector is finding a reliable method for storing electricity. Solar and wind are effective when the sun is shining and the wind is blowing, but these technologies are subject to the whims of mother nature. Next generation batteries, which use aluminum, sodium, and zinc instead of lithium, may offer a solution to the energy storage conundrum and bring clean energy to millions of people who live in remote areas.
Like these emerging technologies, our Organ-Chips have been developed to a point where they are now having an impact on the world. Our platform is designed to emulate human biology more accurately than current cell culture or animal models, and we are currently working with a diverse group of partners to test the way drugs, foods, and chemicals affect human health.
The future of our technology lies in its application in the field of personalized healthcare. As the Forum noted on its blog, our Organ-Chips “could be constructed using stem cells derived from the patients themselves, and then tests could be run to identify individualized therapies that are more likely to succeed.”
In addition to ushering in a new era of personalized healthcare, we hope that our Organs-on-Chips technology will reduce the use of animals in clinical drug trials. “Animal trials rarely provide reliable insights into how humans will react to the same drug,” wrote Nayef Al-Rodhan for the Forum. “Tests done on miniaturized human organs might do better.”
James Coon, our CEO, also believes that out technology can help reduce the use of animals in clinical trials: “We know that we won’t be able to replace animal testing completely. But we can offer an alternative that complements current methods with a system that is not only more humane, but also more accurate to human biology.”
The World Economic Forum is best-known for organizing the annual conference held every winter in Davos that attracts luminaries and journalists from around the globe.
Read the full report on Scientific American
Note: This article is part of a special report on the Top 10 Emerging Technologies of 2016 produced by the World Economic Forum. The list, compiled by the Forum’s Meta-Council on Emerging Technologies, highlights technological advances its members, including Scientific American Editor in Chief Mariette DiChristina, believe have the power to improve lives, transform industries and safeguard the planet. It also provides an opportunity to debate any human, societal, economic or environmental risks and concerns that the technologies may pose prior to widespread adoption.