Author: Burcu Yaldız, Ege University
Organ-on-a-chip (OOC) is a technology enabling the reproduction of the physiological functions of tissues and organs. The activities of these structures and their mechanical and physiological responses are examined similarly to the organs in the human body. Therefore, these platforms have great potential to examine the essential mechanisms of organ physiology. To achieve successful results in these platforms, it is not enough to fully understand the structure and functions of an organ. Also, chip design and precise manipulation of cells are quite important.
Since its emergence, the market has been growing steadily due to its considerable advantages such as integration, miniaturization, and low consumption . Furthermore, these platforms allow users to control multiple parameters precisely and accurately at the same time . Consequently, it becomes possible to mimic the intricate structures, microenvironment and physiological functions of the human organs .
Why Organ Chips?
Various animal species, particularly mice and rats, are separated from natural habitats and are enclosed in cages. According to statistical data, more than 100 million rats and mice are used only in the US every year . During various experiments, animals are treated more like laboratory equipment than a living thing. Tests on animals for different purposes cause physical and psychological trauma or even death. In recent years, with the increased sensitivity to animal rights, researchers have begun to look for alternatives that could replace animals.
Apart from the ethical concerns, there are also problems with the accuracy of the data acquired in animal testing. There are biologically considerable differences between animal species. Therefore, the effects of diseases induced in animals and the products tested on animals show differences in humans. For example, in preclinical studies, it is concluded that most of the drugs tested on animals are safe and effective . However, when clinical studies are performed, most of the drugs tested on humans do not give the expected results [5, 6]. It is estimated that only 11.3% of the compounds entering clinical trials are approved for marketing . The development of a new drug lasts between 12-15 years and costs about $ 2.6 billion [6, 7]. Due to these conditions, undesirable results in studies cause serious losses.
Compared with animal testing, OOC devices offer promising platforms to overcome such problems. First of all, these devices offer researchers the opportunity to work directly with human organs. In this way, unlike conventional methods, studies are not divided into two parts to be performed in animals and humans. Consequently, studies may be carried out in a shorter time . Moreover, more accurate results may be obtained since it is directly studied with human organs . Easy control and integration of the chip system also provide a flexible platform for researchers [1, 2]
To date, most of the studies have been performed with chips of mimicking lung, kidney, intestine, heart, brain tissues, etc. Lung chips as being the frontier have dominated the market . It is thought that the demand will increase for lung-on-chips. Therefore, it is expected that lung chips will continue to dominate the market in the following years . Also, it is thought that heart-on-a-chip has the potential to grow in the global market . In the market analysis conducted by Prescient and Strategic Intelligence, it was determined that 48.4% of the devices were used for toxicology research in 2017 . For this purpose, they have been used in toxicity screening in areas such as cosmetics, biotechnology, food and agricultural chemicals. 51.6% of the remaining part was composed of physiological model development and drug discovery studies .
Globally, North America has the largest share in the market [8, 10]. The main reason for this is that the government has made significant investments in the development of this technology . Thus, most researchers are working to improve the exhaustive, costly and time-consuming drug discovery procedure by further developing these devices. For example, the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) awarded $ 5.6 million grant to the Wyss Institute to use this technology to test the physiological responses of people to radiation to design a drug to prevent these effects.
After North America, Europe is the second-largest market in this area [8, 10]. Increasing demand for health devices and adopting advanced health technology contribute to the growth of the market . The European Union banned animal testing for cosmetic development in 2013. This prohibition, which enforces researchers to find alternatives in cosmetics, has also affected market growth. Although it has a smaller market than other regions, the Asia-Pacific has been rapidly growing in the market, especially in recent years . This growth has been caused by the increase of state investments for better health facilities and the spread of chronic diseases .
The Future of The Market
The studies of countries using OoC technology are caused by needs of restrictions on animal testings. Changes in industry and health demands make the use of this technology even more widespread. It is thought that the increase in the number of cooperation between companies and universities, and the introduction of new advanced models will accelerate the growth of the market. L'Oréal, AstraZeneca, Roche, and Sanofi have already partnered with OOC developers for their studies. Similarly, an agreement was made between the US FDA and Emulate Inc. for the evaluation of organ chip technology. Accuracy Research estimates that the market will reach approximately $6.13 billion by 2025 . On the other hand, Yole Développement state that the market will be growing by 38-57% between 2017-2022 . And they estimate that the market reaches $60 million - $117 million by 2022 .
Meanwhile, additional to important collaborations, the grants given by the states are of vast importance for the future of the market. For example, the European Commission announced that they cooperated with the industry to develop alternatives methods for animal experiments. They also stated that they had allocated a particular budget for these studies. In 2012, the European Commission awarded €1.4 million for the study on body-on-a-chip, which was conducted by five institutions in four countries. In the same year, the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) established "Tissue Chip for Drug Screening” initiative. The NIH first awarded approximately $13.0 million to seventeen research projects in 2012. Then, eleven institutes were granted approximately $17 million in 2014. And lastly, in 2017, 13 institutions were financed by the NIH.
Since its emergence, this technology has attracted quite an interest and has shown rapid development. OOC provides a convenient platform for modeling of diseases and testing toxicity of products such as medicines, and cosmetics. Thanks to its properties, these platforms have begun to replace animal experiments. Major players in the market, such as Emulate, TissUse GmbH, Organovo think that OOC has the potential to become a market of billions of dollars in the future.
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