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Testing New Drugs With “ALS-On-A-Chip”

There is no cure for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a disease that gradually kills off the motor neurons that control muscles and is diagnosed in nearly 6,000 people per year in the United States.

In an advance that could help scientists develop and test new drugs, MIT engineers have designed a microfluidic chip in which they produced the first 3-D human tissue model of the interface between motor neurons and muscle fibers. The researchers used cells from either healthy subjects or ALS patients to generate the neurons in the model, allowing them to test the effectiveness of potential drugs.

“We found striking differences between the healthy cells and the ALS cells, and we’ve been able to show the effects of two drugs that are in clinical trials right now,” says Roger Kamm, the Cecil and Ida Green Distinguished Professor of Mechanical and Biological Engineering at MIT and the senior author of the study.

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