Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine have received initial federal grants to create three-dimensional structures of the liver and arthritic joint system from human cells.
The lead researcher for the 3D micro-liver project, Dr. Lansing Taylor, said the purpose of their work is to better evaluate whether a drug or drug candidate is effective and safe. His team will create a liver made purely of human cells that will mimic the acinus, the unit of the liver that filters the good and bad products in the blood. He said the current method of evaluating toxicity levels in the liver involve animal testing.
"The animals are not very good predictors of human toxic liabilities, yet it's the best thing we have," Lansing said. "Some people would say it's the gold standard, but at best it's not very good bronze."
Lansing added that using animals is problematic from an expense point of view as well as an animal advocacy perspective. Taylor explained after two years, the project's progress will be evaluated, and if they meet particular milestones, the team could receive $10 million over five years from the National Institutes of Health to continue the research. He described the long-term and short-term goals.
"The ultimate goal of this whole project is to link together the different organ systems, microfluidic (the control of fluids that are constrained to a very small scale) organ systems into a major model of the human but that's down the road a bit," Taylor said. "For now, the focus on people is to create these individual organ models."
The two projects at the University of Pittsburgh will receive additional support from the University of Pittsburgh Clinical and Translational Science Institute. The liver and arthritic joint projects are two of 17 projects funded by the over the next five years as a part of the Tissue Chips for Drug Screening Program. Some of the other projects will take place at Harvard, Johns Hopkins, and Duke Universities.