Watch the talk here »

What if the future of medicine is personalized treatment where drugs and treatments are designed just for you? In this talk at TEDxBoston, Dr. Geraldine Hamilton explains how she and her team at the Wyss Institute are designing micro-chips that act like miniature versions of human organs, allowing drug companies to safely test new drugs on humans, and even children. 

So far, her research has produced two different “organs on a chip,” as she calls them — a human gut and a human lung. Watch Dr. Hamilton explain why this is so important for medicine »

What if the answer to disorders like cystic fibrosis and IBS was in microchips? Not microchips from your iMac, but instead from medical researchers like TEDxBoston speaker Geraldine Hamilton, who are designing chips that contain mini-versions of human organs.

In her talk, Your body in a microchip," she explains her research, which so far has produced two different types of what she calls “an organ on a chip” — a human gut and a human lung.

These chips provide insight into drug research by creating an environment more dynamic than human cells in a petri dish, and more like an actual human body than animal testing:

"The way we currently discover and develop new drugs is too costly, takes far too long, and it fails more often than it succeeds," Hamilton says in her talk.

She continues: “The tools that we currently have available to test whether a drug is going to work — whether it has efficacy, or whether it’s going to be safe before it goes into human clinical trials — are failing us. They’re not predicting what’s going to happen in humans…

"We have two main tools available at our disposal. They are: cells in dishes and animal testing … [With] cells in dishes … cells are happily functioning in our bodies, we take them and we rip them out of their native environment, throw them in one of these dishes, and expect them to work. Guess what? They don’t…

"What about animal testing? Animals can and do provide us with very useful information. They teach us about what happens in the complex organism. We learn more about the biology itself. However, more often than not, animal models fail to predict what will happen in humans when they are treated with a particular drug…

"We need human cells, but we need to find a way to keep them happy outside the body … and at [our] institute, we’ve done just that. We call it — an organ on a chip…

"So how does it work? … In the center, we have a flexible, porous membrane on which we can add human cells from say, our lungs, and then underneath, [we] have capillary cells, the cells in our blood vessels; and we can then apply mechanical forces to the chip [in a vacuum channel] to stretch and contract the membrane so the cells experience the same mechanical forces that they did … in the body. There’s air flowing through the top channel and then we throw a liquid that contains nutrients through the blood channel.

"Now the chip is really beautiful, but what can we do with it? … We could, for example, make an infection —
where we add bacterial cells into the lung, and then we add human white blood cells. White blood cells are our body’s defense against bacterial invaders, and when they sense this infection they will enter from the blood into the lung and then go for the bacteria…

"In that tiny chip, you [can] witness one of the most fundamental responses our body has to an infection … with the functionality that we get with these chips, we can begin to look for potential new treatments."

To learn more about the “organ on a chip,” watch Dr. Hamilton’s entire talk here.

(Above, diagrams of the “organ on a chip,” and a look into one of the organs it replicates.)