Museum of Modern Art
acquires human organs-on-chip
of the Wyss Institutes Human Organs-on-Chips were
formally acquired by the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) of
New York City on March 2, 2015, and are on display in
MoMAs latest Architecture and Design Exhibition,
This Is For Everyone: Design For The Common
Good, until January 2016.
The human organs-on-chips were recognized by Paola
Antonelli, the museums senior curator in the
Department of Architecture and Design, for their
state-ofthe- art design and rendering which allows them
to emulate complex human organ structures and functions
using a combination of living cells and mechanical
components encased in a flexible translucent polymer
fabricated using computer microchip manufacturing
The organs-on-chips devices are made of clear, silicone
rubber and contain hollow channels that are lined by
living cells and fed with flowing nutrientrich
fluids and liquid blood substitutes. The tissues mimic
blood flow, air movements and physical distortion of
internal organs, such as those caused by breathing
motions and peristalsis, by application of cyclic vacuum
through adjacent microchannels.
Scientists at the Wyss Institute led by the
Institutes Founding Director Donald Ingber, M.D.,
Ph.D., and former Wyss Technology Department Fellow Dan
Dongeun Huh, Ph.D, first developed a living breathing
lung-on-a-chip that was published in Science in 2010. The
Wyss team also leveraged this design to create various
kinds of organs-on-chips to represent different organs in
the human body. They can be utilized on eachs own
for the study of one specific organ, or their vascular,
flowing channels can be connected to link different
organs using a stream of fluid, mimicking the blood and
nutrient movement through the human bodys vascular
system. This feature allows scientists to replicate a
human body on chips to see how drugs or
chemicals impact each organ as the body metabolizes
The design of organs-on-chips is highly effective at
mimicking the function of real human organs because it
contains cultures of living cells from different types of
tissues, including blood capillaries, that make up living
organs, and because the chips replicate the physical
motions and flow seen in the human body that are crucial
for organ function.
From the numerous different organs-onchips created by
Ingber and his team, the human lung-on-a-chip,
gut-on-a-chip, and liver-on-a-chip have been selected for
display at MoMA. Their installation in the exhibition,
This Is For Everyone: Design Experiments for the
Common Good opened to the public on February 14,
2015 and will remain on display until January 2016.
The exhibition explores contemporary design in the
digital age and takes its name from a 2012 tweet by Tim
Berners-Lee, the British computer scientist who invented
the World Wide Web in 1989. His message, This Is for
Everyone, lit up the stadium at the Olympics Opening
Ceremony during the 2012 games in London, and celebrated
how the Internet has created limitless possibilities for
information sharing and knowledge expansion.
As design is absolutely key to everything we do at
the Wyss Institute, and it has been a guiding light for
me personally from the start of my career, its a
thrill and an honour to see the organs-on-chips
technology find a home amongst MoMAs collection of
world-renowned designs, said Ingber, who is a
founder of the emerging field of biologically inspired
engineering. I have always felt that great
scientists are closer to artists than any other
profession, and great advances come from crossing the
boundary between these disciplines. So its exciting
to see MoMAs curators embrace the subtlety and
simplicity of our microscale design, and communicate the
power of bridging the artscience interface to the
Human organs-on-chips represent a powerful alternative to
animal testing models by mimicking human organs for
purposes such as: testing of drugs, cosmetics, chemicals
and toxins; understanding infections and inherited
diseases; and creating replicas of personalized organs or
organs of genetically related sub-populations to advance
WHO condemns attack on
health facility in Syria
The WHO has expressed deep concern over damages to health
facilities due to conflict in the Syrian Arab Republic
and the far-reaching implications on all Syrians,
especially those in dire need of medical attention.
The statement was provoked by incident in March at Aisha
Hospital in Alboukamal city in Deir ez-Zor governorate,
which resulted in the death of two women and three
newborns who were in incubators at the time of the
strike. Critical hospital equipment was also destroyed
including incubators, electrocardiography machines and
Of the seven public hospitals and 103 health centres in
Deir ez-Zor, only one hospital and eight health centres
are currently fully functional. There are only 27 female
doctors and 339 male doctors for 794,000 people in need.
At a time when the few health facilities are
overwhelmed with patients, it is important that their
functionality be protected and health workers and
humanitarian aiders allowed to provide required health
services and humanitarian aid says Elizabeth Hoff,
WHO Representative to Syria.
Hoff laments that over 50% of hospitals in the Syrian
Arab Republic have ceased to function due to damages
arising from the conflict.
The WHO Representative reiterated the obligations under
the international humanitarian law and Geneva Conventions
for the protection of civilians, health facilities and
health professionals during conflict.
Health facilities must be treated as neutral
premises and never exploited for military purposes. It is
in the interest of all parties involved in the conflict
to preserve the neutrality and functionality of health
infrastructures, personnel and civilians, she
Why some people with
diabetes cant buy insulin in the US
Many patients with diabetes have lapses in medication
that can lead to serious complications requiring
hospitalization. A generic version of insulin, the
lifesaving diabetes drug used by six million people in
the United States, has never been available there because
drug companies have made incremental improvements that
kept insulin under patent from 1923 to 2014.
As a result, say two Johns Hopkins internist-
researchers, many who need insulin to control diabetes
cant afford it, and some end up hospitalized with
life-threatening complications, such as kidney failure
and diabetic coma.
In a study published on March 19, 2015, in the New
England Journal of Medicine, authors Jeremy Greene, MD,
Ph.D, and Kevin Riggs, MD, MPH, describe the history of
insulin as an example of evergreening, in
which pharmaceutical companies make a series of
improvements to important medications that extend their
patents for many decades.
This keeps older versions off the generic market, the
authors say, because generic manufacturers have less
incentive to make a version of insulin that doctors
perceived as obsolete.
Newer versions are somewhat better for patients who can
afford them, say the authors, but those who cant
suffer painful, costly complications.
We see generic drugs as a rare success story,
providing better quality at a cheaper price, says
Greene, an associate professor of the history of medicine
at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and a
practicing internist. And we see the progression
from patented drug to generic drug as almost automatic.
But the history of insulin highlights the limits of
generic competition as a framework for protecting the
More than 20 million Americans have diabetes, in which
the body fails to properly use sugar from food due to
insufficient insulin, a hormone produced in the pancreas.
Diabetes can often be managed without drugs or with oral
medications, but some patients need daily insulin
injections. The drug can often cost from $120 to $400 per
month without prescription drug insurance.
Insulin is an inconvenient medicine even for people
who can afford it, says Riggs, a research fellow in
general internal medicine and the Berman Institute of
Bioethics at Johns Hopkins. When people cant
afford it, they often stop taking it altogether.
Patients with diabetes who are not taking prescribed
insulin come to Riggs and Greenes
Baltimore-area clinics complaining of blurred vision,
weight loss and intolerable thirst symptoms of
uncontrolled diabetes, which can lead to blindness,
kidney failure, gangrene and loss of limbs.
The two doctors decided to find out why no-one makes
generic insulin. A University of Toronto medical team
discovered insulin in 1921, and in 1923, the university,
which held the first patent, gave drug companies the
right to manufacture it and patent any improvements. In
the 1930s and 1940s, pharmaceutical companies developed
longacting forms that allowed most patients to take a
single daily injection.
In the 1970s and 1980s, manufacturers improved the purity
of cow- and pig-extracted insulin. Since then, several
companies have developed synthetic analogs.
When these insulins come on the market, they may cost
just 20 to 40 percent less than the patented versions,
Riggs and Greene write.
WHO highlights serious
threat posed by exposure to recreational noise
1.1 billion teenagers and young adults are at risk of
hearing loss due to the unsafe use of personal audio
devices, including smartphones, and exposure to damaging
levels of sound at noisy entertainment venues such as
nightclubs, bars and sporting events, according to the
Hearing loss has potentially devastating consequences for
physical and mental health, education and employment.
Data from studies in middle- and highincome countries
analysed by WHO indicate that among teenagers and young
adults aged 12-35 years, nearly 50% are exposed to unsafe
levels of sound from the use of personal audio devices
and around 40% are exposed to potentially damaging levels
of sound at entertainment venues. Unsafe levels of sounds
can be, for example, exposure to in excess of 85 decibels
(dB) for eight hours or 100dB for 15 minutes.
As they go about their daily lives doing what they
enjoy, more and more young people are placing themselves
at risk of hearing loss, notes Dr Etienne Krug, WHO
Director for the Department for Management of
Non-communicable Diseases, Disability, Violence and
Injury Prevention. They should be aware that once
you lose your hearing, it wont come back. Taking
simple preventive actions will allow people to continue
to enjoy themselves without putting their hearing at
Safe listening depends on the intensity or loudness of
sound, and the duration and frequency of listening.
Exposure to loud sounds can result in temporary hearing
loss or tinnitus which is a ringing sensation in the ear.
When the exposure is particularly loud, regular or
prolonged, it can lead to permanent damage of the
ears sensory cells, resulting in irreversible
WHO recommends that the highest permissible level of
noise exposure in the workplace is 85 dB up to a maximum
of eight hours per day. Many patrons of nightclubs, bars
and sporting events are often exposed to even higher
levels of sound, and should therefore considerably reduce
the duration of exposure. For example, exposure to noise
levels of 100 dB, which is typical in such venues, is
safe for no more than 15 minutes.
Teenagers and young people can better protect their
hearing by keeping the volume down on personal audio
devices, wearing earplugs when visiting noisy venues, and
using carefully fitted, and, if possible,
noise-cancelling earphones/headphones. They can also
limit the time spent engaged in noisy activities by
taking short listening breaks and restricting the daily
use of personal audio devices to less than one hour.
With the help of smartphone apps, they can monitor safe
listening levels. In addition they should heed the
warning signs of hearing loss and get regular hearing
Governments also have a role to play by developing and
enforcing strict legislation on recreational noise, and
by raising awareness of the risks of hearing loss through
public information campaigns. Parents, teachers and
physicians can educate young people about safe listening,
while managers of entertainment venues can respect the
safe noise levels set by their respective venues, use
sound limiters, and offer earplugs and chill
out rooms to patrons. Manufacturers can design
personal audio devices with safety features and display
information about safe listening on products and
To mark International Ear Care Day, celebrated each year
on 3 March WHO launched the Make Listening
Safe initiative to draw attention to the dangers of
unsafe listening and promote safer practices. Worldwide,
360 million people have moderate to profound hearing loss
due to causes such as noise, genetic conditions,
complications at birth, infectious diseases, chronic ear
infections, the use of particular drugs and ageing. It is
estimated that half of all cases of hearing loss are
NIH announces $41.5
million in funding for the human placenta project
Geared to improving health of mothers and children, the
National Institutes of Health has dedicated $41.5 million
for an initiative to understand and monitor the
development of the human placenta during pregnancy.
The placenta is a lifeline that gives us our start
in the world, said Alan E. Guttmacher, M.D.,
director of NIHs Eunice Kennedy Shriver National
Institute of Child Health and Human Development, which is
leading the research effort. It influences the
health of mother and child not just during pregnancy, but
for the rest of their lives. However, despite its
important role, the placenta has received comparatively
The placenta is a temporary organ that ferries oxygen and
nutrients from the mother to her foetus while at the same
time removing potentially toxic substances like carbon
dioxide. It also produces hormones to help maintain
pregnancy and perform the unique immunologic function of
allowing the mother and foetus to co-exist.
Problems with the placenta may lead to negative pregnancy
outcomes for mother or foetus, such as pre-eclampsia (a
disorder of high blood pressure in pregnancy),
gestational diabetes, pre-term birth, and stillbirth.
Placental problems have also been linked to a higher risk
of heart disease later in life, for both mother and
If we can develop technologies to monitor placental
health during pregnancy, we should be able to prevent
some of these problems from happening, said Dr
Guttmacher. We hope this funding opportunity will
attract a broad range of researchers and clinicians to
help -- placental biologists, obstetricians, and experts
in imaging, bio-engineering, and other arenas.
Until now, most studies of the placenta have been limited
to ultrasound exams, blood tests, and the examination of
placental tissue after delivery. These studies have
provided important foundational knowledge, Guttmacher
said, but many questions remain about normal placental
development and function and the organs role in
health and disease.
The initiative seeks to spur new technologies or
innovative applications of existing technologies, such as
imaging tools or sensors, that would allow practitioners
to safely track placental functioning during pregnancy.
Such technologies might gauge how blood and oxygen flow
through the placenta, how it attaches to the uterine
wall, and how it conveys nutrients to the foetus.
Advances in imaging and bioengineering hold
terrific promise for the study of the placenta,
said Roderic Pettigrew, Ph.D., M.D., director of
NIHs National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and
Bioengineering, which is co-sponsoring the Human Placenta
Projects latest initiative. We expect that
the technologies resulting from this initiative will also
translate to other organs and open new avenues of study
that will benefit human health.
The latest funding announcement for the Human Placenta
Project, its third and largest to date, also requires
applicants to address the effects of environmental
factors -- such as air pollution, medications, and
maternal diet -- on the placenta during pregnancy.
The placenta is a fascinating organ, but its
one of the least understood, said Guttmacher.
For researchers who want to apply their skills in
an area of medicine that isnt being looked at as
much as both scientific opportunity and human health
warrant, this is a wonderful chance.
WHO issues its first
hepatitis B treatment guidelines
WHO today issued its first-ever guidance for the
treatment of chronic hepatitis B, a viral infection which
is spread through blood and body fluids, attacking the
liver and resulting in an estimated 650,000 deaths each
year most of them in lowand middle-income
Worldwide, some 240 million people have chronic hepatitis
B virus with the highest rates of infection in Africa and
Asia. People with chronic hepatitis B infection are at
increased risk of dying from cirrhosis and liver cancer.
Effective medicines exist that can prevent people
developing these conditions so they live longer. But most
people who need these medicines are unable to access them
or can only obtain substandard treatment. One reason for
this is the lack of clear evidence-based guidance for
countries (especially low- and middle-income countries)
as to who should be treated and what medicines to use.
Deciding who needs treatment for hepatitis B
depends on a number of factors, says Dr Stefan
Wiktor, who leads WHOs Global Hepatitis Programme.
These new guidelines, which give treatment
recommendations that rely on simple, inexpensive tests,
will help clinicians make the right decisions.
The WHO guidelines for the prevention, care and
treatment of persons living with chronic hepatitis B
infection lay out a simplified approach to the care
of people living with chronic hepatitis B, particularly
in settings with limited resources. The guidance covers
the full spectrum of care from determining who needs
treatment, to what medicines to use, and how to monitor
Key recommendations include: the use of a few
simple non-invasive tests to assess the stage of liver
disease to help identify who needs treatment;
prioritizing treatment for those with cirrhosis - the
most advanced stage of liver disease; the use of
two safe and highly effective medicines, tenofovir or
entecavir, for the treatment of chronic hepatitis B; and
regular monitoring using simple tests for early
detection of liver cancer, to assess whether treatment is
working, and if treatment can be stopped.
The special needs of specific populations, such as people
co-infected with HIV, as well as children and
adolescents, and pregnant women are also considered. The
two recommended medicines are already available in many
countries as generics, and thus are relatively
inexpensive, costing as little as US$5 per person per
month. Because for so many people treatment is
lifelong, it is important that patients can access these
medicines at the lowest possible price says Dr
Wiktor. A number of countries are beginning to develop
hepatitis B treatment programmes, and the newly-released
document also provide guidance on how to organize
hepatitis care and treatment services.
For example, countries need to think about ways to
improve access to medicines and how best to deliver
quality care that builds on existing health services and
staff, says Dr Philippa Easterbrook, from the WHO
Global Hepatitis Programme. Treatment can prolong life
for people already infected with hepatitis B, but it is
also important to focus on preventing new infections. WHO
recommends that all children are vaccinated against
hepatitis B, with a first dose given at birth.
Some countries, particularly in Asia, have reduced the
rates of childhood hepatitis B infection through
universal childhood vaccination. The challenge now is to
scale up efforts to ensure that all children worldwide
are protected from the virus.
Another route of infection is through the re-use of
medical equipment, in particular of syringes. WHO has
recently launched a new policy on injection safety that
will also help prevent new hepatitis B infections. The
policy calls for the worldwide use of smart
syringes to prevent the re-use of syringes or needles.
The new guidelines on treating hepatitis B follow on from
the publication last year by WHO of its first-ever
guidelines on treating hepatitis C.
Nibib launches Want
to be a bioengineer? game app
How do you keep an artificial limb attached to the body?
What lab-grown organ have scientists successfully
transplanted into patients? You can find the answer to
these questions and many more while playing Want to Be a
Bioengineer?, a game for middle and high school students,
designed by the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging
and Bioengineering (NIBIB), part of the National
Institutes of Health.
The game introduces students to real-life examples of how
bioengineers are improving peoples lives, from
helping paralyzed individuals stand, to re-growing
fingertips, to finding new ways to see inside the body.
During the game, students answer a series of multiple
choice questions pertaining to subjects in rehabilitation
engineering, regenerative medicine, and biomedical
imaging. At the end, a score is generated based on how
many questions are answered correctly.
It is truly an exciting time to be entering the
field of bioengineering. Yet, students dont often
know what it means to be a bioengineer, said NIBIB
Director Roderic Pettigrew, Ph.D., M.D. The
bio-engineers we support are building bio-artifical
kidneys, growing functional cartilage, and developing
implantable sensors that can detect real-time changes in
biochemistry. They are coming up with ways to make
tumours glow, supercool organs so that they can stay
outside the body longer for transplantation, and store
vaccines so they dont require refrigeration. They
are making biomedical technologies better, faster,
cheaper, and smaller and, in doing so, are profoundly
changing health care in the US and around the
This game is a fun and easy way to introduce a
younger generation to the exciting possibilities of
bio-engineering. It plants the seed that if youre
interested in science and technology, enjoy being
creative, and have a desire to help people, you might
consider becoming a bio-engineer, said Pettigrew.
The game can be played on the NIBIB website at or
downloaded for free to your phone or tablet from the
iTunes App store.
New big data portal aims
to speed up Alsheimers drug discovery
A National Institutes of Health-led public-private
partnership to transform and accelerate drug development
achieved a significant milestone recently with the launch
of a new Alzheimers Big Data portal
including delivery of the first wave of data for
use by the research community. The new data sharing and
analysis resource is part of the Accelerating Medicines
Partnership (AMP), an unprecedented venture bringing
together NIH, the US Food and Drug Administration,
industry and academic scientists from a variety of
disciplines to translate knowledge faster and more
successfully into new therapies.
The opening of the AMP-AD Knowledge Portal and release of
the first wave of data will enable sharing and analyses
of large and complex biomedical datasets. Researchers
believe this approach will ramp up the development of
predictive models of Alzheimers disease and enable
the selection of novel targets that drive the changes in
molecular networks leading to the clinical signs and
symptoms of the disease.
We are determined to reduce the cost and time it
takes to discover viable therapeutic targets and bring
new diagnostics and effective therapies to people with
Alzheimers. That demands a new way of doing
business, said NIH Director Francis S. Collins,
M.D., Ph.D. The AD initiative of AMP is one way we
can revolutionize Alzheimers research and drug
development by applying the principles of open science to
the use and analysis of large and complex human data
Developed by Sage Bionetworks a Seattle-based non-profit
organization promoting open science, the portal will
house several waves of Big Data to be generated over the
five years of the AMP-AD Target Discovery and Preclinical
Validation Project by multi-disciplinary academic groups.
The academic teams, in collaboration with Sage
Bionetworks data scientists and industry bioinformatics
and drug discovery experts, will work collectively to
apply cutting-edge analytical approaches to integrate
molecular and clinical data from over 2 000 post-mortem
The National Institute on Aging (NIA) at NIH supports and
co-ordinates the multidisciplinary groups contributing
data to the portal. The AMP Steering Committee for the
Alzheimers Disease Project is composed of NIA and
the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and
Stroke, both of NIH, the US Food and Drug Administration,
four pharmaceutical companies (AbbVie, Biogen Idec,
GlaxoSmithKline and Lilly) and four non-profit groups
(Alzheimers Association, Alzheimers Drug
Discovery Foundation, Geoffrey Beene Foundation and US
Against Alzheimers) and is managed through the
Foundation for the NIH.
Because no publication embargo is imposed on the use of
the data once they are posted to the AMP-AD Knowledge
Portal, it increases the transparency, reproducibility