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Scientists Unveil 'Bone Marrow-On-A-Chip'

Update Date: May 06, 2014 10:15 AM EDT

Researchers have successfully created an organ-on-a-chip that reproduces the structure, functions and cellular make-up of bone marrow. The bone marrow is a complex tissue that up until now could only be studied intact in living animals. 

Researchers believe the invention could help test new drugs to prevent lethal radiation exposure. 

The device being dubbed 'bone marrow-on-a-chip' is believed to give scientists a much-needed new tool to test the effects of new drugs and toxic agents on whole bone marrow. 

"Bone marrow is an incredibly complex organ that is responsible for producing all of the blood cell types in our body, and our bone marrow chips are able to recapitulate this complexity in its entirety and maintain it in a functional form in vitro," said Don Ingber, M.D., Ph.D., Founding Director of the Wyss Institute, Judah Folkman Professor of Vascular Biology at Harvard Medical School and Boston Children's Hospital, Professor of Bioengineering at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, and senior author of the paper, in a press release. 

The device also passed an initial test of its drug-testing capabilities. Like marrow from live mice, this engineered marrow was also susceptible to radiation - but an FDA-approved drug that protects irradiated patients also protected the marrow on the chip, according to press release.

Researchers said, in future they could potentially grow human bone marrow in immune-deficient mice.

"This could be developed into an easy-to-use screening-based system that's personalized for individual patients," said coauthor James Collins, Ph.D., a Core Faculty member at the Wyss Institute and the William F. Warren Distinguished Professor at Boston University, where he leads the Center of Synthetic Biology.

The related study has been published in the online issue of Nature.

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