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Human on a Chip (Fast Company)


Advocates like Pascaline Clerc, a senior director at the Humane Society of the United States and a former cellular biologist whose work once involved lab work on animals, view the organ-on-a-chip work at Wyss as among the most promising of several advances aimed at reducing or eventually replacing animal testing.

Yet while quite impressed with the progress so far, Thomas Hartung, director of the Center for Alternatives to Animal Testing at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, notes there will be many challenges in getting a “reasonably completely model of a human system” right.

“There’s a certain hype at the moment because a lot of money was made available for this,” he says. “The body is incredibly efficient. It’s very difficult to reproduce this.”

Hartung is leading a project that takes the opposite approach. Rather than trying to reproduce the complexity of the human system, The Human Toxome Project is working to break it down into its simplest elements. Starting with endocrine disruption, the chemicals that interfere with the body’s hormonal system, his team is beginning to model the ways in which the body’s cells process the tens of thousands of chemicals that consumers are exposed to in their daily lives, many of which have never undergone health or toxicity testing. (EPA rarely requires companies to conduct toxicological tests for new chemicals before marketing their products. Out of some 28,000 “pre-marketing notifications,” the agency has requested testing about 200 times, says Hartung. “The are overwhelmed by the task.”)

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