Desktop Human Body Developed for Toxicity Testing

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The Advanced Tissue-engineered Human Ectypal Network Analyzer project team is developing realistic human organs for testing.

ATHENA, the Advanced Tissue-engineered Human Ectypal Network Analyzer project team, is developing four human organ constructs, the liver, heart, lung and kidney, which are based on a miniaturized platform. Each organ component will be about the size of a smartphone screen, and the whole ATHENA body of interconnected organs would fit on a desk. The project is supported by the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA).

“By creating a holistic dynamic system that more realistically mimics the human physiological environment than static human cells in a dish, we can understand chemical effects on human organs as never before,” said Rashi Iyer, a senior scientist at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL), the lead laboratory on the five-year, $19 million multi-institutional effort. “The ultimate goal is to build a lung that breathes, a heart that pumps, a liver that metabolizes and a kidney that excretes, all connected by a tubing infrastructure much akin to the way blood vessels connect our organs.”

Some 40% of pharmaceuticals fail their clinical trials, Iyer noted, and there are thousands of chemicals whose effects on humans are simply unknown. Providing a realistic, cost-effective and rapid screening system such as ATHENA with high-throughput capabilities could provide major benefits to the medical field, screening more accurately and offering a greater chance of clinical trial success.

Results from the project’s Vanderbilt University effort on the ATHENA perfusion system were presented at the Society of Toxicology meeting by co-principal investigator John Wikswo. The development and analysis of a human liver organ construct, that responds to exposure to a toxic chemical much like a real liver, is described in a presentation reported by Gordon A. Cain, university professor and director of the Vanderbilt Institute for Integrative Biosystems Research and Education (VIIBRE) at Vanderbilt University.

The ATHENA project brings together researchers from LANL, the Vanderbilt Institute for Integrative Biosystems Research and Education (VIIBRE) at Vanderbilt University, Charité Universitätsmedizin,Berlin, Germany, Harvard University, University of California San Francisco, and CFD Research Corporation.


Successful integration of the Charité-developed liver organ construct into the VIIBRE built ATHENA perfusion system was demonstrated recently. The team expects to connect the liver and the heart constructs this winter followed by the lung and finally the kidney.

Source: Los Alamos National Laboratory