In November, Professor Linda G. Griffith visited BioInnovation Institute to give a Talk at The Square.
In the past years, she has worked on introducing an alternative to testing in animal models – organs on a chip where parts of the human body processes are artificially reconstructed on a small plate.
She holds a Ph.D. in chemical engineering and is a professor at MIT. Throughout her career, she has become a member of the National Academy of Engineering and the recipient of a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship, the Popular Science Brilliant 10 Award, NSF Presidential Young Investigator Award, the MIT Class of 1960 Teaching Innovation Award and Radcliffe Fellow amongst many other.
We asked her a few questions about her work and the future for organs on a chip.
Why did you start working in this field?
Animal models are not good representatives of people. We can’t even count how many times a disease model was cured in an animal and later failed in humans. Many of the new classes of drug developed today are biologics and they cannot be tested in animals because they work against antibodies that are very specific for our species. So, we started to look into how we can build enough features of a human body on a plate to represent the disease.
What is the process?
We look into what we need for these trials because we cannot build an entire human body. To create something meaningful but also inexpensive, we build a conceptual model from data about how things interact in the body and then represent it with math where possible. Do we really need to recreate a patient’s immune system or just molecules to mimic what the immune system does? The first thing we have engineered is a liver.
What do you expect from this technology?
It is always hard to predict what will happen, but the first step is to produce success in areas where animal models cannot help us. Once we have seen it work in one area, there will be classes of problems that migrate to this form of trials, but progress will be incremental, and it will be a gradual shift. Historically, there has been much more resistance to animal models in Scandinavia so it is more likely that it will come in to practice here before in the US.