Growing Livers on Computer Chips
The current studies demonstrate that this concept might be achieved -- but it has not yet resulted in an actual artificial liver. Still, stacks of these silicon chips could one day be at the heart of such a device.
"I have a feeling this will make a contribution to somebody's artificial liver sometime down the road," Collins says. "The miniaturization of our device is exciting because you can put 300,000 cells onto one tiny chip, and then you could stack the chips to quickly have a large cell population that can do a lot of blood filtering. The year 2005 bio-liver will probably use this technology."
Meanwhile, the little bioreactors could be used for other purposes. Bhatia says that the artificial organs could be used to screen new drugs for toxic effects on liver cells. Because the silicon chips will allow monitoring and individual control of each individual cell, the devices would be far more efficient than the laboratory animals currently used for toxicity studies.
"In the near term, my group and others are looking at silicon/cell chips for improving drug discovery and other sorts of biological research," Bhatia says. "In the longer term, I think this could be potentially a new generation of artificial-liver bioreactors. This new generation recognizes that liver function is not the same as kidney dialysis and will really tailor the devices to keep the liver cells functioning better."