Animal testing could become a thing of the past thanks to mini organs that can be used for laboratory trials, like new ‘lung models’ developed in Australia.
Researchers from Sydney, South Korea and China created the models from human cells which mimic the real organ inside the human body.
These three-dimensional structures might therefore hasten the development of new treatments. Presently, the lack of suitable lung models has prevented the development of new classes of drugs.
The model developed by the team led by scientists at Sydney University could be used to test drug safety and effectiveness, as well as identify the effects of potentially toxic substances and pathogens.
“We decided to build two different lung models, one of which mimics phase one clinical trials; a healthy lung to study safety of new drugs,” says the study’s senior author Professor Wojciech Chrzanowski from the Sydney Pharmacy School.
“The other one mimics phase two trials; a diseased lung that, in our case, mirrors chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, enabling us to study the therapeutic effectiveness or superiority of the drugs.
The model lungs are created by layering patient cells in the same way as they would exist in body, using bronchial epithelial cells as a foundation, then building upon that with layers of normal lung fibroblasts – connective tissue. This is then kept in conditions that simulate those of lungs – with air on one side, liquid on the other, and a simulated circulatory system.
Adding a new level of personalised healthcare, the model lungs can be constructed from the cells of the patient. This allows for bespoke testing of drugs on material emulating a person’s own respiratory system.
“With a traditional cell culture, you put cells into a Petri dish and culture them in static conditions, which is far from what happens in a human body. What we are doing is creating environmental conditions similar to those which exist in the human body,” says lead research Dr Huyen Phan.
The development of model lungs will reduce – and potentially negate – the use of animals for therapeutics testing. Not only is the use of human tissue models more humane, it pushes drug development towards more accurate outcomes. As the researchers note in their preprint study, “animals cannot fully represent the human lungs since they have different anatomy, immune system, and inflammatory responses”.