A lab-grown liver stand-in may better
predict bad responses to drugs than animal testing does.
A human “liver chip” — liver cells grown
on a membrane along with several types of supporting cells — formed structures
reminiscent of bile ducts and reacted
to drugs similarly to intact livers, researchers report November 6 in Science Translational Medicine. Similar
rat and dog liver chips also processed drugs like normal livers in those
species, allowing scientists to compare human liver cells’ reactions to drugs
to those of the other species.
Rats, dogs and other animals are often
used to test whether drugs are toxic to humans before the drugs are given to
people. But a previous study found that the animal tests correctly identified only
71 percent of drug toxicities.
The liver chip is designed to catch bad
drug reactions that animal tests might miss. For instance, bosentan, an
experimental high blood pressure drug, doesn’t harm rats’ livers, but causes
bile salts to build in humans’ livers, damaging the organ. Those effects were
mimicked by the chips, Kyung-Jin Jang of the Boston-based company Emulate Inc.,
which makes the chips, and her colleagues found.
Some drugs that were toxic to dogs and
rats might not harm people, the human liver chip tests also suggest. Development
of one experimental compound called JNJ-2 was discontinued because it caused liver
fibrosis, or scarring in rats. But the human liver chip didn’t show any bad
reactions, suggesting it might be safe for people.
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