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BIOBOARD - SINGAPORE
IBN engineered artificial human livers for drug testing and discovery
The liver is an important target organ for drug testing because all drugs pass through it for detoxification. This is a process whereby harmful substances are reduced or removed from the body. Drugs that cannot be detoxified may cause poisoning or other lethal side effects. IBN researchers have now made it possible for companies to predict the toxicity of new drugs earlier, potentially speeding up the drug development process and reducing the cost of manufacturing. The tool they have engineered to enable this is an artificial human liver piece, which mimics the natural tissue environment closely.

IBN Executive Director Professor Jackie Y. Ying, said, “This research advance is the first drug testing model available that can sensitively predict long-term drug responses in the liver. Such predictive toxicology platforms are useful research tools that aid and accelerate the discovery of new drugs. The ability to determine drug toxicity at an early stage would lead to significant cost savings for the pharmaceutical companies and consumers.”

IBN Group Leader Professor Hanry Yu elaborated, “Most materials and devices have been designed with little attention to what the cells need. By using a cell-centered approach and translating our basic understanding of tissue behavior, we have developed liver tissue models that can simulate conditions outside the body with striking similarity to organs inside the body.”

If commercialized, IBN’s liver tissue models can be developed into test kits to support drug development and pre-clinical research. In January this year, IBN collaborated with Janssen, a pharmaceutical company of Johnson & Johnson, to produce liver cells from human stem cells for drug testing. This new research project leverages on IBN’s expertise in liver tissue engineering to develop an alternative source of human liver cells that are limited in supply. IBN is also working with global healthcare company Hoffman La-Roche on a new drug screening method for hepatitis viruses, which are leading causes of liver cancer.

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