What's boiling up in technology - the WEF vision - VI. Organs on Chip

Molecular Diagnostics "Lab on a chip" Platform- Microfluidics integrated with silicon microelectronics and nanomaterial technology. Credit: BNML Group

Human on a chip. Credit: Wyss Institute Harvard

A chip mimicking the various components of a human body is the goal fo scientists at the Wyss Institute. Credit: Wyss Institute Harvard

Lab-on-a-chip is a technology (a cluster of technologies) that is already in use. Microfluidics has made possible, along with electronics integration, to develop labs in miniature that can analyse bio-molecules fast and at low cost. There have been also progress in the area of cultivating cells in vitro as well as in 3D printing organs starting from single cells. All of this is opening the door to create organs on a chip, usable for testing drugs and accelerating the research in medication.  For the WEF 2016 will see the start of a significant impact on the understanding of drugs effect and will mark the beginning of a revolution in pharma.

>>> I agree that the convergence of several technologies is leading us to a revolution in the way pharma is evolving, with potential disruption among today's players as newcomers may leverage these new technologies to gain market share. The possibility of moving from in-vitro cells observation (and their reactions to drugs and pathogens) to chips that simulate organ structures is clearly a huge step forward. The next one? A full human on a chip!

Actually, in the next decade, but we are seeing the first signs now, pharma will become more and more customised, taking into account the person's genetic code, its metabolome and the continuous monitoring of her biology.

It makes sense that WEF is not looking into this global picture since they are focussing on 2016 technology impact, but I would say the impact that the first "organ on a chip" is having this year is nothing when compared to the impact of the new medicine in the next decade.

Moving from curing to preventing and from mass targeted drugs to personal medicine is going to have a disruption that can compare to the ones that took place in the XVIII through XX centuries as health care moved from symptoms to causes. Before the XVIII century health care was about (trying to) cure symptoms. The understanding that symptoms were just manifestation of a root cause shifted the cure to the fighting of the cause. That took a long time (and we are not done yet).

Moving from the understanding of the cause (and the whole economics of diagnostic tools) to the understanding of specificity will bring a complete disruption in the way health care is done and to the players in the health care domain.

The impulse to personal monitoring devices (by and large still at the gadget level today), to the analyses of data (personal data today that will grow into context data and statistical data analyses/data analytics tomorrow) and to personalised drugs (based on the metabolome and the gene sequence) is already having important economic implication. We are seeing new companies carving their market niche and in the next decade we are likely to see the first disruptions at systemic level.

This will be driven by two forces: one, the technology enabling new approaches, and two the economic drive to decentralise health care cost to the individuals and to decrease systemic health care cost.

Author - Roberto Saracco

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