A chip designed to mimic a human placenta could replace pregnant mice testing drugs

Scientists have created an advanced polymer chip designed to mimic the human placenta and fetus to stop ‘immoral and cruel’ drug testing on more than 2 million people around the world each year.

While the wafer is only the length of a human finger, it houses a small universe: the human cells on the wafer that make up the placental-fetal barrier grow under conditions that are “as close to reality as possible”.

The placenta cells from the gynecological clinic come from the placenta that was discarded after delivery.

Not only was the chip able to end animal testing, but scientists noted that pregnant mice are not suitable models for testing how drugs affect pregnant women and their babies.

The chip uses cells from the placenta that are discarded after birth. The team grows it on a chip

Because the chip displays processes in the placenta and fetus, the Swedish research team at Empa Zukunftsfonds believe the innovation could reveal complex interactions of materials between mother and child.

More than 115 million animals worldwide are used in some lab experiments each year, and the team at Empa hopes to reduce the amount by a few million with the new chip that replaces the need for pregnant mice.

The chip was specifically designed to detect whether any substances in newly created drugs would harm a fetus — something that was long ago tested on mice.

Tina Burke, researcher at Empa at the Laboratory of Particle Interactions and Biology in St. Gallen. The team from Empa and ETH Zurich said in a statement: “Environmental toxins can also pose a significant threat to a delicate fetus if they penetrate the placental barrier or disrupt placental growth and function, thus indirectly harming the fetus.”

To make the chip, Burki and her team grew placental cells on a porous membrane to form a dense barrier, and embryonic stem cells formed into a small tissue ball in a drop of nutrient solution.

The researchers then had to simulate the circulation of blood through the cells, which they did by placing a slide on a continuous shaker that tilted it back and forth.

The chip features a placenta-fetal barrier, allowing scientists to test drugs without using pregnant mice

The chip features a placenta-fetal barrier, allowing scientists to test drugs without using pregnant mice

The chip was specifically designed to detect whether any substances in newly created drugs would harm a fetus — something that was long ago tested on mice.  Pictured is the lead researcher on this project, Tina Bourque

The chip was specifically designed to detect whether any substances in newly created drugs would harm a fetus — something that was long ago tested on mice. Pictured is the lead researcher on this project, Tina Bourque

This method allows them to monitor how substances move through each tissue.

While the researchers hope the chip will stop animal testing, they also note that pregnant mice are not ideal for assessing drug safety in humans.

“The placenta has a very specific structure in each species — and in mice it is similarly different from that in humans,” Burki said.

“Better insights can be obtained from the alternative in vitro model, that is, the new ‘in test tube’ system, because the new chip technology with primary human cells can more reliably identify what is happening at the interface between mother and child.

Animal experimentation has been a longstanding practice in the scientific community, but due to advances in technology, many are starting to turn away from it.

However, a Harvard neuroscientist made headlines last month for earlier studies in monkeys that had babies plucked from their mothers and sewn to their eyes.

Margaret Livingstone has come under fire for work done in 2016 and 2020 that she said is based on Nobel Prize-winning science, which has “helped save millions of children from losing their sight.”

While the researchers hope the chip will stop animal testing, they also note that pregnant mice are not ideal for assessing drug safety in humans.

While the researchers hope the chip will stop animal testing, they also note that pregnant mice are not ideal for assessing drug safety in humans.

Scientists, animal rights activists, and the public are calling for Livingston’s studies to be removed from approved journals and for the laboratory at Harvard to be closed.

Studies have brought back memories of baby monkey Pretches who was rescued from the University of California, Riverside, in 1985.

Monkey was removed along with 700 animals in a night raid.

Members of the Animal Liberation Front found that Bretsch had a sonar device attached to his head that blew high-pitched squeaks every few minutes and had bandages wrapped around his eyes.

When the bandages were removed, animal advocates found that his eyes had been covered.

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