Rensselaer Research Review Spring 2008
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DataChip
Human liver cells are dotted across the new DataChip to quickly determine if various chemicals, drugs, and drug candidates are toxic. When coupled with the MetaChip, the two biochips could provide a highly predictive alternative to animal testing.
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Changing Toxicity Testing

Traditional toxicity testing involves the use of animals to predict whether a chemical or drug candidate is toxic. However, with the pharmaceutical industry generating large number of compounds, and new legislation stipulating that chemicals undergo toxicity analysis, there is a rapidly emerging need for high-throughput toxicity testing. 

“We looked at the issues facing companies and realized that we needed to develop something that was low-cost, high-throughput, easily automatable, and did not involve animals,” said co-lead author Jonathan S. Dordick, the Howard P. Isermann ’42 Professor of Chemical and Biological Engineering at Rensselaer and co-founder of Solidus Biosciences Inc., the company that is working to commercialize the chips. “We developed the MetaChip and DataChip to deal with the two most important issues that need to be assessed when examining the toxicity of a compound — the effect on different cells in our body and how toxicity is altered when the compound is metabolized in our bodies.” 

Currently, detailed toxicity screening does not come into the drug discovery process until later in the development, when significant time and money have been invested in a compound by a company. And animal testing does not always provide information that translates to predicting the toxicity of a compound or its metabolites in a human, Dordick said.

Putting it all Together

When the biochips are used together the result is a promising and affordable alternative to animal-based toxicology screening and a direct route to developing safe, effective drugs, according to Dordick, who is also a member of the Rensselaer Center for Biotechnology and Interdisciplinary Studies. 

The collaborative team sees the combined chips as an efficient, more accurate way to test drug compounds for toxicity earlier in the discovery process. But, co-lead author and Solidus Biosciences co-founder Douglas S. Clark, professor of chemical engineering at the University of California at Berkeley, views pharmaceutical companies as only one potential user, and not necessarily the first. 

“The initial market will not necessarily be pharmaceuticals,” Clark said. He further explains that the initial market will likely be chemical and cosmetic companies that are being pushed to eliminate animal testing or cannot afford such testing. In fact, by 2009 cosmetics companies in Europe will be restricted from using animals in testing for chemical toxicity. “Obviously cosmetics need to be safe, and ensuring the safety of new compounds without testing them on animals presents a new challenge to the industry, especially as the number of compounds increases. These chips can meet this challenge by providing comprehensive toxicity data very quickly and cheaply.” 

“We are still a ways off from personalized medicine, but the MetaChip offers that future possibility,” Dordick said. When coupled with the new DataChip, the two chips could someday be used to determine the levels and combinations of drugs that are safe and effective for each individual patient, Clark explains. 

Contributors

Dordick and Clark were joined in the research by Moo-Yeal Lee and Michael G. Hogg of Solidus Biosciences; R. Anand Kumar of Berkeley; and Sumitra M. Sukumaran of Rensselaer.

The research was funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the New York State Foundation for Science, Technology and Innovation (NYSTAR).

DataChip image by RPI/Moo-Yeal Lee

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