Organ-on-a chip: imitating for better care

Toxicity testing of new drugs with "organs on a chip
(Organ-on-a-Chip - OcCs)

Talking about clinical trials for new drugs means first and foremost taking stock of the economic bottleneck the pharmaceutical industry has been facing for several years.

Organs-on-a-Chip - Brain in a capsule

Developing a drug takes time

Developing a drug takes time (10 to 12 years on average) and money. By way of illustration, a study carried out in 2012 by theOffice of Health Economics in the UK estimated that the production of a new molecule would require an investment of around $900 million. This exorbitant figure came to $1.5 billion when the total cost of capital was taken into account.

"Many called, few chosen".

In France, for example, out of 10,000 molecules, only 10 will be patented and 1 will pass all the testing and clinical trial stages to become a drug (data from 2023). In practical terms, patients waiting for new therapies receive no drugs, and by extension, their illnesses go untreated. This reality is the same for all industry players worldwide.

In the face of these alarming facts, organs-on-a-chip represent a most promising alternative, and above all an unhoped-for response to a global health challenge.

Organ on a chip: principle and advantages

Organs-on-a-Chip - Brain on a microchip

Reproduce the functions of the human body

Organ-on-a-chip, derived from lab-on-a-chip, are microfluidic devices that aim to reproduce the functions of a specific organ in the human body (lung, liver, heart, brain, intestine). Formed from stem cells, these chips are designed to mimic – even partially – the physiological conditions and cellular interactions found in a real organ. About the size of a credit card, they provide an almost ideal culture medium for the growth of the cells deposited in them.

Greater efficiency

Similar to lab-on-a-chip, their main advantages are that they are portable and can be reproduced in thousands at low cost, enabling drugs to be tested over a wide range of concentrations. In addition, the microenvironment thus obtained is closer to in vivo conditions. in vivo conditions than those reconstituted in a Petri dish, and ethically less questionable than animal testing.

Personalized medicine

In addition to undeniably saving time and money, organs-on-a-chip pave the way for personalized medicine. It’s true that in a given sample of individuals receiving a treatment, not all will react in the same way. By tailoring the treatment in question to an individual and his or her characteristics, using an organ-on-a-chip, we could treat the pathology in a personalized way, with a procedure whose effectiveness would have been tested beforehand.

Current applications and limitations

Organs on a chip (Targeted tumor)

Replicating the microenvironment

From organ to tumor, there’s only one step, and it’s one that’s already been taken by research. Reproducing the microenvironment in which cancer cells interact with each other – physically or chemically – is indeed a popular subject for study. In addition to documenting the survival and proliferation of these malignant cells, tumors-on-a-chip could be the testing ground for cancer drugs, and their side effects.


Aging is also a highly relevant issue for organs-on-a-chip. As certain causes of biological aging become better known, the idea would be to test anti-aging molecules on organs, focusing on certain parameters, and ultimately attesting or not to a product’s efficacy.

Challenges still to be met

Despite all these avenues, organs-on-a-chip still face a number of challenges before they become biomedical must-haves. Generally speaking, validating their relevance in relation to traditional models remains a priority:

  • Faithful reproduction of all the characteristics of an organ is difficult, and some physiological aspects may not be fully captured.
  • In the body, organs interact with each other in complex ways, and modeling these interactions requires more advanced devices.
  • The durability and stability of cultured cells cannot be guaranteed over long periods, thus limiting the perpetuation of experiments.

That said, we shouldn’t underestimate the hype surrounding these systems, especially when you consider that since 2015, the global market for organs-on-a-chip has grown by 70% compared to 2015.


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