Advances in wearable health tech raise hope for additional discoveries to relieve or cure people with debilitating or fatal diseases and conditions. The artificial pancreas is a notable case in point, combining continuous glucose monitoring with insulin pumps. It’s exciting to speculate on other functional device configurations that could replace failing or failed human organs, but researchers also focus on developing a different form of artificial organ: the organ-on-chip. On-chip organs aren’t destined for implanting or wear by living patients, though let’s not rule out that pathway forever. Rather, the organ-on-chip provides a silicon model that performs like a human organ, and can be used to test various substances and circumstances more safely than with human trials. For example, Seattle-based Nortis uses organ-on-chip technology to identify liver and kidney interactions when responding to chemical toxins. Harvard researchers at the John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) 3D-printed a heart-on-a-chip to measure reactions to cardiac drugs.

A team at the Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology uses bioprinting to develop complex structures similar to human tissues and organs. These can be used to investigate systemic drug effects. Bolstered by a combined recent infusion of almost $10 million from the Korean government and other institutions, the group — the UNIST-WIRM-UniBasel Organ Mimetic Research Center – focuses on recreating natural physiological microenvironments of human cells from specific tissues and organs. One such microsystem organ-on-chip is an artificial blood vessel system.

Faster and safer than current drug and cure development without ethical issues of human or animal testing feed the hope that answers to medical questions and either treatments or cures for diseases and conditions may come faster than ever before, thanks to organs-on-chips.