Several years ago, MIT tissue engineer Linda Griffith set out to build an artificial liver that could eliminate the need for donated organs for transplant. Then she had a realization: the most common reason for needing a liver transplant is a hepatitis C infection, and “if it were me, I’d rather not have a liver transplant. I’d rather the doctor said, Here, take these drugs; you will be cured of hepatitis C; you’ll go on and lead a happy life; and you’ll stay out of the operating room.’” But researchers have a hard time developing drugs for hepatitis C and other ailments because animal experiments don’t always reveal what happens in humans, and human cells in a petri dish don’t always function the way they would in the body. Indeed, hepatitis viruses don’t even infect human liver cells in a petri dish. So Griffith and her team are putting their tissue-engineering expertise to work building what’s essentially a miniature human liver on a silicon chip. It won’t serve as a replacement part but rather as an amazingly realistic model of the natural organ. “What we’re trying to do is replicate the structure, as well as the mechanical forces, so that we can hopefully replicate the function,” she explains. Mass produced, such a chip could be a boon not only to companies developing drugs for hepatitis and other diseases, but also for scientists investigating liver cancer and gene therapy, and even chemical firms testing the toxicity of new materials. Griffith and graduate student Albert Hwa showed Technology Review senior editor Rebecca Zacks how to build a little liver.
[NOTE: This article was a “demo” with graphic displays in the print edition of the magazine.]
Meta has built a massive new language AI—and it’s giving it away for free
Facebook’s parent company is inviting researchers to pore over and pick apart the flaws in its version of GPT-3
The gene-edited pig heart given to a dying patient was infected with a pig virus
The first transplant of a genetically-modified pig heart into a human may have ended prematurely because of a well-known—and avoidable—risk.
Saudi Arabia plans to spend $1 billion a year discovering treatments to slow aging
The oil kingdom fears that its population is aging at an accelerated rate and hopes to test drugs to reverse the problem. First up might be the diabetes drug metformin.
Yann LeCun has a bold new vision for the future of AI
One of the godfathers of deep learning pulls together old ideas to sketch out a fresh path for AI, but raises as many questions as he answers.
Get the latest updates from
MIT Technology Review
Discover special offers, top stories, upcoming events, and more.