Tissue Chip Initiatives & Projects

NCATS, in collaboration with other NIH Institutes and Centers and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, is leading the Tissue Chip for Drug Screening program to develop human tissue chips that accurately model the structure and function of human organs — such as the lungs, liver and heart — to help predict drug safety in humans more rapidly and effectively. During the program’s inception, it has focused on developing physiologically relevant models for toxicity testing. The current focus of the program is on disease modeling and efficacy testing.

A lung-on-a-chip

This lung-on-a-chip serves as an accurate model of human lungs to test for drug safety and efficacy. (Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering, Harvard University Photo)

Tissue Chip Development

The first two-year funding phase of the Tissue Chip for Drug Screening program (2012-2014) supported the development of 3-D cellular microsystems designed to represent a number of human organ systems. Renewable cell sources and bioengineered microsystems that successfully demonstrated physiological function moved into the next three-year phase (2015-2017) to further refine the technology and begin organ chip integration, with the first five years of the program drawing to a close in July 2017. Projects that explored the use of stem and progenitor cells to differentiate into multiple cell types that represent the cellular architecture within the organ were also awarded through this initiative. Learn more about Tissue Chip Development.

Tissue Chip Testing Centers

Tissue Chip Testing Centers were based at independent institutions and provided a way to test and validate tissue chip platforms developed through the program. These efforts helped validate tissue chip technology and promoted the adoption of this technology by the broader research community. Learn more about Tissue Chip Testing Centers.

Tissue Chips in Space

NCATS is partnering with the International Space Station U.S. National Laboratory (ISS National Lab) on its Tissue Chips in Space initiative. Through this initiative, NCATS and the ISS National Lab are collaborating to refine tissue- and organ-on-chip platforms for on-flight experiments at the space station so that scientists can better understand diseases and translate those findings to improve human health on Earth. Learn more about Tissue Chips in Space.

Tissue Chips for Disease Modeling and Efficacy Testing

The Tissue Chips for Disease Modeling initiative supports further development of tissue chip models of human disease that mimic the pathology in major human organs and tissues. The goals are to (1) support studies to develop in vitro disease models using primary tissue or induced pluripotent stem cell (iPSC)-derived patient cell sources on tissue/organ-on-chip platforms, (2) determine disease relevance of these models by preliminary testing of key experimental features and (3) test the effectiveness of candidate drugs. Learn more about Tissue Chips for Disease Modeling and Efficacy Testing.

Tissue Chips for Pain, Opioid Addiction and Overdose (NIH HEAL Initiative project)

With funding from the Helping to End Addiction Long-term® Initiative, or NIH HEAL Initiative®, NCATS awarded five grants for research teams to create and test tissue chips to understand the mechanisms or effects of nociception (the sensory system’s response to harmful stimuli, including pain-relevant signaling), addiction and opioid use disorder. Learn more about tissue chips for pain, opioid addiction and overdose and view the awards.

Tissue Chips for Modeling the Immune System

Gaining a better understanding of the immune system and its interactions with other physiological systems is a critical research need. To address this need, the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering and NCATS funded four research projects focused on developing tissue chips that model components of the human immune system. Learn more about tissue chips for modeling the immune system and view the awards.

Clinical Trials on a Chip

For people suffering from difficult-to-treat, life-threatening diseases, clinical trials are an important strategy to finding effective new and repurposed therapies. Unfortunately, around 85 percent of late-stage clinical trials of investigational drugs fail because of safety problems or ineffectiveness despite promising preclinical test results in conventional models. To improve the rate of success of new therapeutics in drug development, the “Clinical Trials” on a Chip program, led by NCATS in conjunction with several other NIH Institutes and Centers, supports researchers’ efforts to create microphysiological, bioengineered models of human tissues and organ systems to inform clinical trial design, support the planning and execution of clinical trials, assist in patient stratification, help identify reliable clinical trial endpoints, and ultimately develop tools for more informative and efficient clinical trials. Read about the 10 inaugural grants to researchers.

Tissue Chips for Studying COVID-19

With support from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, NCATS was able to rapidly award additional funding to tissue chip investigators so that they could pivot their work to evaluate properties of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19; identify and test potential treatments and therapeutics for COVID-19; and examine the mechanisms of COVID-19 disease pathology. Learn more about tissue chips for studying COVID-19 and view the awards.


Danilo Tagle, Ph.D.