PhotoA new type of transparent microchip may put an end to animal testing. The chip, which mimics the functions of human organs, would allow scientists to test drugs and cosmetics in a safer and more cost-efficient manner without having to rely on animal test subjects.

The European Union banned the sale of any cosmetics or cosmetic ingredients that were tested on animals in 2013. As a result, companies all around the world have abandoned animal testing for these products so that they could sell to markets in Europe. Although the practice has been applauded by animal rights activists, it has left producers with fewer ways to test their products.

Mimicking organ functions

The introduction of “organs-on-chips” may provide the answer that they have been looking for. It was developed at Harvard’s Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering, and is designed to mimic the functions of human organs on a microscale. Some of the organs it can mimic include the human heart, lungs, and intestines.

“When viewed through the specious prism of social media, the world can seem to have harnessed technology primarily either for frivolity, or for war,” stated the Independent’s editorial team. “Organs-on-Chips is a reminder that technological advances also enable very clever people to push boundaries in ways beneficial to us all.”

The chips are the size of a computer memory stick. They replace the structures of an organ with microfluidic channels lined with living human cells. It then stimulates those organs’ functions. They are clear and made of a flexible polymer, which allows scientists to look at things in real time and on a microscale. The goal of the researchers is to build chips with different organ functions so that they connect them all together to create whole human body. This will allow them to see the effects of drugs and cosmetics on an entire person.

There still needs to be further research before these chips can completely replace animals for testing purposes, but there is hope that one day we will be able to analyze the effects of certain products on humans with greater accuracy. 

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