Currently incurable, pulmonary fibrosis is characterised by a progressive stiffening of the alveoli, the minute air sacs in our lungs that expand as we breathe. The slow progress of the disease and high cost of animal trials are hampering research into this condition, so a team of scientists have designed a new organ-on-a-chip system to facilitate laboratory studies. Built from lung connective tissue cells, or fibroblasts, in a collagen matrix, their engineered microtissues (pictured, with collagen from healthy lung tissue in red) mimic the three-dimensional properties of pulmonary alveoli, and can be induced to develop fibrosis. When subsequently treated with pirfenidone and nintedanib, two drugs designed to slow down the progress of one type of lung fibrosis, the lung-on-a-chip system showed an improvement in symptoms. This proof of principle suggests that it could provide a practical method to test the effectiveness of new drug candidates.
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