Human Organs on a Chip Win Design Award

Human Organs on a Chip Win Design Award

The Design Museum's much-lauded Design of the Year has gone to a medical device for the first time.

Futuristic silicon chips that mimic the function of living human organs - known as "organs on a chip" have been in the research and development pipeline for a while now. The winners of this award were Donald Ingber and Dan Dongeun Huh from Harvard's Wyss Institute, who have integrated human cells from a variety of tissues into chips. The scientists' "lung on a chip" for example, sees lung cells contracting and relaxing as air passes over the chip. 

Rather than using this technology to grow and replace organs lost to accident and disease, the team behind the chips envisage their devices being used in the lab to accurately test drugs and therapies. This may help reduce the need for controversial animal testing and offer a better model of how a drug would truly behave in the human body. Similar uses would involve testing the effects of toxic chemicals and contaminants on particular tissues of the body - something it's currently quite hard to quantify. This could have a huge impact on the speed and efficiency of getting a drug to market. Clinical studies currently take years to complete and testing a single compound can cost more than $2 million. 

Going forward, the Wyss Institute team are aiming to create ten different human organs-on-chips and link them together on an automated instrument to represent whole-body physiology - going one step further to create a "human-on-a-chip".

Gemma Curtin, Designs of the Year 2015 exhibition curator, said: "This winning design is a great example of how design is a collaborative practice embracing expertise and know how across disciplines. Its selection as Design of the Year 2015 also signifies a desire to recognise and award design that can significantly impact society now and in the future."

"Human Organs-on-chips" was nominated by Paola Antonelli of New York's Museum of Modern Art, who described the chips as "the epitome of design innovation - elegantly beautiful form, arresting concept and pioneering application".

Other nominees for the 2015 Award included the Ocean Cleanup project, which is developing technologies to extract, prevent and intercept plastic pollution, and the Google self-driving car.

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