Could 3D printing reduce the need for animal testing?

virtual-clinical-trialsAs we have become more adept at virtually recreating the human body, it has become possible to conduct increasingly rigorous testing of new drugs in a virtual environment.

For instance, SimOmics are a UK startup who have developed what they refer to as the Virtual Fish EcoToxicology Laboratory, which uses maths to test the exposure, uptake, metabolism and effects of drugs on different species of fish before they’re physically produced.

The platform is believed to be the first in the world to accurately predict the journey a drug takes through our body, and even the impact it might have on fishes as it enters wastewater and river systems.  Eventually, they hope to simulate the effect of drugs on humans.

Additionally, the company have launched a web-based platform called SimOmics Evidence, which allows pharma companies to submit drug ingredients to perform virtual trials.  The ultimate aim is to both reduce the costs of new drug development, but also to reduce the need for animal testing.

“Our technology will dramatically de-risk the testing of drugs and their interactions with fish. We also see future applications for testing the environmental impact of everything from new pesticides to printing ink. Ultimately, we could also model the effect of future drugs on humans to ensure that new treatments are already refined and developed to a much higher standard – before the first clinical trials ever take place,” the company say.

Virtual organs

A Harvard based team are proposing a similar thing with 3D printing.  I’ve previously written about the application of 3D printing to allow surgeons to practice, nurses to develop fixes on the fly, and potentially even to manufacture medicine itself.

The Harvard team have used 3D printing to produce a new material that they’re dubbing an ‘organ-on-a-chip’.  The material is chock-full of sensors and is designed to mimic the behavior of the human heart.

The aim is to allow scientists to examine changes in tissue and cellular activity, and the 3D printing allows them to rapidly print each organ and begin using it to collect data.  Ultimately, this will allow researchers to better model disease progression, and of course the effect of any drug on the body.  Eventually it might even lead to the demise of animal testing as a requirement of the drug development process.

It’s a nice example of what can be achieved when a number of innovations converge, which in this case are the sensor technologies used in IoT, 3D printing and machine learning.  They are certainly some fascinating projects to track.

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