Novel 3D-printed device may offer a new method to test pharmaceuticals


Moving toward eliminating drug and chemical safety testing in animals

A researcher in personal protective equipment looks at a white rabbit in a glass tank. Image credit: ©Elnur –

The plastic “body-on-chip” device mimics how a drug moves through the body’s organs. Image credit: ©Elnur –

Researchers from Edinburgh Innovation, the commercialisation service of the University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, Scotland, will receive funding for the development of a device that they believe can replace the use of animals in the safety testing of drugs and chemicals.

According to a press release, this novel 3D printed device might replace the need for drug and chemical safety testing on animals.1 The researchers received £260,000 from the Medical Research Council to test the device using sterile materials. The device was proven to replicate drug perfusion, and the results were presented at the Microphysiological Systems World Summit in Germany in June 2023.

The plastic “body-on-chip” device, invented by Liam Carr, an in vitro pharmacology PhD student, mimics how a drug moves through the body’s organs. The movement is demonstrated using positron electron tomography (PET) imaging. The device currently includes five compartments that contain human cells representing the heart, lungs, kidney, liver and brain, connected by channels that mimic the human circulatory system, through which a small molecule drug is pumped.1

Other organs may be added such as the stomach or skin, in states representative of both human health and disease.

Regarding the eye, Adriana Tavares, BSc (Hons), MSc, PhD of the University’s Centre for Cardiovascular Science and supervisor of Mr Carr, said, “At the moment, we are unable to track drug movement in the eye, but the modular design of the chip could enable a reconfiguration of the compartments to enable drug kinetic analysis in compartments mimicking the eye.”

The potential use of the body-on-chip device so far shows potential even beyond drug development to the testing of aerosols, food and household products.

Regarding the performance of the device, Mr Carr commented, “Using mathematic modelling, we have found that the rate of transfer into the organ compartments and the uptake of nutrients in vitro mimics in vivo organ results. It’s been really exciting to be able to use PET imaging to modify the device and produce even flow through all organ compartments.”

Dr Tavares stated, “This device shows really strong potential to reduce the large number of animals that are used worldwide for testing drugs and other compounds, particularly in the early stages, where only 2% of compounds progress through the discovery pipeline.”

The importance of such a device is underscored by the fact that about 80,000 animals are used in early-stage drug development in Europe each year, without subsequent clinical benefit.


1. A novel 3D printed device that could replace the need for drug and chemical safety testing on animals has received new funding. News release. Edinburgh Innovations. Published November 28, 2023.

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