Wyss Institute receives FDA contract to test radiation countermeasures

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced on Monday the awarding of a $5.6 million contract to Harvard University's Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering to develop technology to test radiation countermeasures.

The Wyss Institute's breakthrough organs-on-chips technology uses microchips that mimic the functions of and tissue structures present in living organs, like the heart, intestine and lung. Under the terms of the contract, scientists with the Wyss Institute will develop models of radiation damage in gut, bone marrow and lung organs on chips to test countermeasure candidates.

"Organs-on-chips technology represents the kind of transformational change in the way products are evaluated that is critical to advancing regulatory science, the science underpinning all FDA regulatory decisions," Luciana Borio, the FDA's assistant commissioner for counterterrorism policy, said. "It holds enormous promise for improving our understanding of new medical countermeasures, particularly when it is unethical or unfeasible to conduct efficacy studies in humans; and when available animal models have limited use in accurately predicting human response."

After a nuclear or radiological incident, victims could experience ARS, an illness that affects a combination of organs after exposure to a high dose of radiation over a short period of time. While the U.S. is making the development of medical countermeasures to treat ARS a high-priority, the disease presents complex scientific challenges because of its effect on multiple organs. The organs-on-chips give the U.S. an opportunity to potentially address some of the challenges.

Tests to assess the viability of radiation countermeasures using the new technology could result in valuable information that would facilitate countermeasure development.