A GROUNDBREAKING device that could eliminate animal testing for new medicines has been designed by scientists at a Scottish university.

It is thought the 3D-printed "body-on-chip" could eliminate the need for animal testing and speed up the approval process for medicines. The device invented in Edinburgh is the first of its kind in the world.

Currently, around 80,000 animals are used in the early stages of drug development in Europe each year, without subsequent clinical benefit.

Researchers at the University of Edinburgh have designed the device which "perfectly mimics how a medicine flows through a patient’s body".

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Without the need for live animal testing, the chip allows scientists to see how different organs react.

The plastic device means scientists can test drugs to see how different organs react without the need for live animal testing.

Made using a 3D printer, the chip’s five segments  replicate the human heart, lungs, kidney, liver and brain.

Through channels that mimic the human circulatory system, new drugs can be pumped.

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The success of the body-on-chip so far shows potential even beyond drug development - to test aerosols, food and household products. It also holds the possibility of adding more compartments to represent other organs such as the stomach or skin, in states representative of both human health and disease.

Liam Carr, the inventor of the device, said: “The PET (positron emission tomography) imagery is what allows us to ensure the flow [of new drugs being tested] is even."

PET scanning involves injecting tiny amounts of radioactive liquid into the chip to transmit a signal to a specialist camera, allowing scientists to assess the effect of new drugs visually.

Carr said: “This device is the first to be designed specifically for measuring drug distribution, with an even flow paired with organ compartments that are large enough to sample drug uptake for mathematical modelling. Essentially, allowing us to see where a new drug goes in the body and how long it stays there, without having to use a human or animal to test it.”

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He added: “The platform is completely flexible and can be a valuable tool to investigate various human diseases, such as cancer, cardiovascular diseases, neurodegenerative diseases and immune diseases.

“Because of this flexibility, the uses are bound only by the availability of these cell models, and the scientific questions we can think of.

“For example, we could have a fatty liver disease model in the device and use this to see how having a diseased liver affects other organs such as the heart, brain, kidneys, etc, and could even combine multiple diseased cell models to see how diseases can interfere with each other.”

Carr’s supervisor, Dr Adriana Tavares, of Edinburgh’s Centre for Cardiovascular Science (CVS), said: “This is a really important area of medical research, as we continuously learn about how diseases traditionally perceived to be restricted to an organ or system can have diverse effects across other distant organs or different interconnected systems."

She added: “This device shows really strong potential to reduce the large number of animals that are used worldwide for testing drugs and other compounds, particularly in the early stages, where only 2% of compounds progress through the discovery pipeline.”