How the Tissue Chip Program Works

Partnerships are vital to the success of the Tissue Chip for Drug Screening program. This innovative technology encompasses expertise from multiple fields, including bioengineering, stem cell technology, organ physiology, pharmacology, toxicology, pathology and regulatory science. NCATS works with program researchers, government officials and industry partners to ensure project goals are met and to identify and address any needs or obstacles that arise.

Multiple connected tissue chips

Multiple tissue chips can be connected in a system to simulate a human-body-on-a-chip.


NIH’s Common Fund and National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke led the beginning of this trans-NIH initiative to better understand how tissue chips work. Seeking the best ideas in engineering, biology and toxicology, NIH issued two requests for applications in fall 2011.

NIH Institutes and Centers, including NCATS, funded 19 awards in 2012 to researchers who developed human tissue chips in an effort to better predict drug safety and efficacy. View the 2012 projects in cell resources and model systems.

In 2014, the next phase of the program began: integration of the tissue chips into a full body system to evaluate drugs and diseases. NIH funded 11 institutions to do this critical work. View the 2014 projects.

Due to the wide breadth of expertise required to manage the Tissue Chip program, a trans-NIH project team oversees award selection and progress. The team has nearly 60 members representing more than 15 NIH Institutes/Centers.*

Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA)

DARPA is conducting a separate but parallel tissue chip program in close coordination with NIH. DARPA has entered into cooperative agreements with two NIH award recipients (the Wyss Institute at Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology) to develop bioengineering platforms capable of integrating 10 or more organ systems.

Food and Drug Administration (FDA)

The FDA is exploring how this new technology might be used to assess drug safety prior to approval for first-in-human studies, ensuring that a regulatory framework will be in place for this innovative technology when it comes to market.

International Space Station U.S. National Laboratory (ISS National Lab)

The ISS National Lab is collaborating with NCATS to refine tissue chip technology for biomedical research use on the space station. Tissue chip applications at the ISS National Lab will enable studies of organs at the cellular and tissue level under reduced gravity, will contribute to our understanding of the process of aging and could reveal molecular targets that can slow that process.


Working with industry partners and other potential users of tissue chip technology is invaluable to determine the marketability of the devices and adoption of this technology into the research community.

NIH-funded tissue chip researchers and the International Consortium for Innovation and Quality in Pharmaceutical Development (IQ Consortium) are working together to further test and develop the tissue chip devices and to discuss marketability and other industry logistics.

NIH-funded tissue chip researchers are using GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), Pfizer, Inc. , and AstraZeneca compounds to perform functionality tests on microphysiological platforms funded through the Tissue Chip program. The compounds, which remain the property of GSK, Pfizer or AstraZeneca, are used for research purposes only and are not part of studies involving human subjects.

Tissue Chip Consortium

NCATS relies on the expertise of many specialists representing NIH, other government agencies and partner organizations. NCATS’ interaction with the IQ Consortium enables pharmaceutical companies to work with NCATS staff and Tissue Chip for Drug Screening program-funded investigators on context of use, marketability and potential stakeholder feedback — elements crucial to moving past the discovery/innovation phase. The Tissue Chip Consortium, which comprises all of these partnerships plus several new industry collaborators, meets every six months and plays a pivotal role in advancing this technology.

*NCATS acknowledges the following NIH Institutes for their contribution to this trans-NIH program: the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development; the National Cancer Institute; the National Eye Institute; the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute; the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases; the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases; the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering; the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research; the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases; the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences; the National Institute of General Medical Sciences; the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke; the National Institute of Nursing Research; and the National Institute on Drug Abuse. NIH’s Common Fund and National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke initially led trans-NIH efforts to establish the program.