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Body Building
Body on a Bench
  Body on a Bench
Photo of "Liver  Chip"
  Tubes keep vitamins and nutrients pumping through the tiny "liver chip."

Linda Griffith has a vision for the future of healthcare. One day, she says, tiny living body parts, or "chips," will be laid out on the lab bench, each representing a major organ in the human body. Want to know how a certain drug might react with the kidneys, or the gall bladder, or the brain? Just consult the man-made body on a bench.

Though this vision may sound like some freakish twist of the Frankenstein tale, it's actually not too far from being a reality, and the scientific implications could be enormous. Griffith's team at MIT has been able to perfect a "liver chip" that mimics the function of a real liver. The trick is building the right structure in which the young, unformed liver stem cells can feel at home to act just as they would in the body. So the chip is made with tiny channels that mimic the blood vessels of a real liver. As Alan sees first-hand, the chip has actual liver cells growing successfully within its artificial structure. As nutrients and vitamins are pumped through the chip, these cells work to process them just as a real liver would.

Photo of Alan and Liver Cell Scientist  
MIT's Linda Griffith tells Alan her hopes for the future of biological engineering.  

The hope is that the liver chip will allow scientists to test drugs and perform other experiments that would never be possible with people, avoiding the use of lab animals as well. Why start with the liver? It's the body's largest organ and essential for many body functions. Each year, thousands of liver transplants are required and, due to shortages, many never come to pass. Thanks to the liver chip, liver health may be better understood and improved, rendering transplants a thing of the past.

For more on this topic, see the web feature:
Stem Cell 101
Artificial Alan

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