Body on a Chip Program: Bioprinting to Test Antidotes for Chemical Weapons

If one were to ask you or I to volunteer our time and our own precious body to aid researchers in developing antidotes to chemical weapons, I don’t think anyone in their right mind would jump from their seat to volunteer, regardless of compensation. That story doesn’t sound like it ends well for the volunteer.

Animal testing can help provide answers for researchers, yet isn’t always entirely accurate. This void and uncertainty calls for an alternative route in lab testing in order to develop antidotes to chemical weapons, a relevant threat in today’s world we live in.

In an effort funded by the U.S. government, the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) provided the researchers at Wake Forest University with $24 million to aid their research and development in combating nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons. Already hard at work in the lab, one of the places they started their efforts was in creating an antidote for Sarin gas, recently used on civilians in Syria.

The effort at Wake is lead by Dr. Anthony Atala, who along with his researchers are heavily indulged in a program called “Body on a Chip”. The project replicates human cells to print structures that imitate the functions of the heart, liver, lung, and blood vessels. The program strives for 3-D printed human cell networks capable of reacting to both chemical weapons and their antidote. Dr. Atala says the technology will be utilized to “predict the effects of chemical and biologic agents and to test the effectiveness of potential treatments,”.

The Body on a Chip testing process begins by bioprinting human cells into a hydrogel based scaffold. These cells are then placed onto a two-inch chip and meshed together with a blood substitute, similar to some trauma surgeries. This introduction and adaptation of the cells results in a small, simulated organ, with the capability of reacting to a chemical substance similar to the way our body would. This way you are actually testing human tissue, as opposed to some other animal. This idea might help us sleep at night knowing that the testing for potential medical countermeasures is done on actual human cells, as opposed to a mouse in a lab somewhere.

Author: Ben Woodruff, reporter for