The Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) has joined University of Pennsylvania researchers from two labs to build lung-on-a-chip technology, which promises a safe means of studying chlorine gas effects and the discovery of treatments.
Chlorine gas was used as a weapon during World War I, after which its use was banned, but even so, it has reappeared most recently in the Syrian civil war. It’s also a common industrial gas, and leaks can be deadly, especially since no effective treatments for chlorine inhalation exist.
The lung-on-a-chip technology builds on other organ-on-a-chip platforms, which have arisen from collaborations between Dan Huh, associate professor in Penn’s School of Engineering and Applied Science, and G. Scott Worthen, a professor of pediatrics at Penn’s Perelman School of Medicine and a neonatologist at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. The devices work by mimicking organs’ natural environments and incorporate human cells on which to conduct experiments.
Analogue organs like this allow scientists to pursue drug safety and efficacy trials more quickly and cheaply than traditional non-clinical testing. They believe it could also reduce any need for controversial animal testing commonly used in drug development.
Specifically, lung-on-a-chip will allow researchers to examine lung tissue and map paths to innovative treatments. It can also be used for high-throughput drug candidate screening and to hasten the development of promising drugs. If successful with chlorine, the researchers hope it could also lead to new treatments for inhalation of other toxic chemicals.