Hello,

We noticed you're browsing in private or incognito mode.

To continue reading this article, please exit incognito mode or log in.

Not an Insider? Subscribe now for unlimited access to online articles.

Intelligent Machines

The Liver Chip

The human liver cells in Linda Griffith’s miniature device behave just as they would in the body, permitting more accurate drug and toxin testing.

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.]

Tech Obsessive?
Become an Insider to get the story behind the story — and before anyone else.

Subscribe today
More from Intelligent Machines

Artificial intelligence and robots are transforming how we work and live.

Want more award-winning journalism? Subscribe and become an Insider.
  • Insider Plus {! insider.prices.plus !}* Best Value

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Everything included in Insider Basic, plus the digital magazine, extensive archive, ad-free web experience, and discounts to partner offerings and MIT Technology Review events.

    See details+

    What's Included

    Unlimited 24/7 access to MIT Technology Review’s website

    The Download: our daily newsletter of what's important in technology and innovation

    Bimonthly print magazine (6 issues per year)

    Bimonthly digital/PDF edition

    Access to the magazine PDF archive—thousands of articles going back to 1899 at your fingertips

    Special interest publications

    Discount to MIT Technology Review events

    Special discounts to select partner offerings

    Ad-free web experience

  • Insider Basic {! insider.prices.basic !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Six issues of our award winning print magazine, unlimited online access plus The Download with the top tech stories delivered daily to your inbox.

    See details+

    What's Included

    Unlimited 24/7 access to MIT Technology Review’s website

    The Download: our daily newsletter of what's important in technology and innovation

    Bimonthly print magazine (6 issues per year)

  • Insider Online Only {! insider.prices.online !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Unlimited online access including articles and video, plus The Download with the top tech stories delivered daily to your inbox.

    See details+

    What's Included

    Unlimited 24/7 access to MIT Technology Review’s website

    The Download: our daily newsletter of what's important in technology and innovation

/3
You've read of three free articles this month. for unlimited online access. You've read of three free articles this month. for unlimited online access. This is your last free article this month. for unlimited online access. You've read all your free articles this month. for unlimited online access. You've read of three free articles this month. for more, or for unlimited online access. for two more free articles, or for unlimited online access.