Animal-Free Research with Organoids & Organ Chips

Animal-Free Research with Organoids & Organ Chips

Advancing human medicine, science, and technology are all possible without the use of animals. In fact, we’re constantly reading about exciting developments in animal-free research happening across the globe!

To highlight just how promising these advancements are, the international non-animal alternatives testing market is growing at an estimated 10% per year and is forecast to reach over 4 billion NZD by 2026.1

Organoids & organ chips are great examples of innovative animal-free research being investigated internationally.

Organoids & Organ chips

Organoids are 3D structures made up of stem cells that can mimic the functions, structure, and biological complexity of human organs.

Organ chips are microfluidic devices that contain a network of interconnected reservoirs. These can also mimic the organ systems of a living being. Researchers can place lung, liver, fat, gastric or heart cells inside the reservoirs, add a test drug and quickly evaluate how the chemical is distributed, metabolised and excreted.

There are continuous developments with this technology. In fact, the organ-on-a-chip market has a projected annual growth rate of 36.54%, so it could reach over 1 billion NZD in global revenue by 2030.2

An additional benefit: It’s estimated that the use of organ-on-a-chip technology could result in a decrease of up to 26% in the cost of research and development for a new drug. This would also decrease the time it takes to develop a new drug.3

Watch the short video from Wyss Institute below for a quick intro to organs-on-chips:

What can we do with organoids and organ chip technology?

Just a few of the many examples: 

  • The U.S. National Center of Advancing Translational Sciences is working on a whole reproductive system on a chip.4 Researchers can already replicate the uterus-foetus connection on-a-chip for investigating complex diseases, treatments, and conditions.
    • The Placenta-Chip provides a highly controllable, dynamic microenvironment where researchers can observe cellular interactions and behaviour in real-time.5
    • A combination of Placenta-Chip and Foetal-Membrane-Chip made it possible to observe statin (cholesterol medication) metabolism and metabolite transport in human pregnancy.6
  • A human-organ-chip with self‐assembling human immune cells reacted to a commercial influenza vaccine similarly to observations in vaccinated humans.7
  • An array of 27 known drugs were used to test how well liver-chips could predict toxicity (if these drugs were toxic or poisonous). They showed a sensitivity of 87% and a specificity of 100% (meaning the chips caught 87% of the liver-damaging drugs, and they correctly identified 100% of the non-toxic drugs). The study also showed that this level of performance could generate over 3 billion USD (~4.7 billion NZD) annually for the pharmaceutical industry through increased small-molecule research and development productivity.8 Each of the toxic drugs identified had previously passed animal testing.
  • Lung-airway-chips are already able to replicate multi-level immune responses to influenza A infection, providing independent control over fluid flow and breathing motions.9
  • Mercury metabolism was recently displayed in a gut-chip, which allowed for regulating mechanical strain and real-time monitoring of the absorption and cell reactions. These were in line with human data.10
  • Blood-vessel-chips can help assess bleeding risk from treatments for thrombosis and heart attacks. The vessel-chip showed that combining dual anti-platelet therapy with specific inhibitors can work where all else fails.11
  • Using an organ chip model replicating the blood-brain-barrier (BBB), researchers were able to show that malignant melanoma can disrupt the BBB integrity and remodel the brain microenvironment. This helped with understanding how this aggressive tumour spreads to the brain.12


The latest news

  • Organ chips were used to create a blood vessel system and test the effect of normal cigarettes against heated tobacco products. The chips showed differences in inflammation responses.13
  • Researchers used a spinal-cord organoid system to replicate opioid tolerance development (a regular problem during chronic pain treatment). They were able to measure neuron function, neural activity and receptor expression. This could be used to screen pain medicine.14
  • Tongue tissue was successfully incorporated into an organ chip. Researchers were able to show the different tastes of sweet, sour, salty and bitter. This bioelectronic tongue is hoped to facilitate studies in food quality controls, disease modelling, and drug screening.15
  • A spleen-on-a-chip was used to observe the effects of disrupting the balance of retention and processing of altered red blood cells, providing insights into how splenic sequestration and related crises occur in Sickle Cell Disease.16
  • Researchers developed a miniature knee joint system with human bone-marrow-derived stem cells. They demonstrated the potential of the mini-joint in developing drugs for Osteoarthritis.17
  • Researchers increased the value of cosmetics testing on multi-organ-on-chip models by adding thyroid follicles to established skin-and-liver-chip models. These models can now show the endocrine disruption of chemicals over time. 18


As you can see, a lot of exciting progress is happening in this space. Even pharmaceutical companies are slowly catching on, and many major companies have invested in core groups for adopting animal-free technology.19

This is exactly the type of research we’re asking the NZ Government to invest in with our Striking at the Source campaign. With $0 of government funding set aside for animal-free research, we’re missing out on incredible opportunities for science, animals, people, and even the NZ economy!


More info

  • Stay up to date with our Striking at the Source campaign here.
  • Learn more about animal-free and human-relevant research methods here



Header image (organ-on-a-chip) credit: Wyss Institute.