Body on a Chip; Re-creation of a living system in vitro

By Ken-Ichiro Kamei, Yoshikazu Hirai, and Osamu Tabata

NOTE: This is an overview of the entire article, which appeared in the September 2013 issue of the IEEE Nanotechnology Magazine.
Click here to read the entire article.

This article provides an overview of emerging technology that enables the re-creation of living systems in vitro called body-on-a-chip. The concept of body-on-a chip evolved from Lab-on-a-chip (LOC) technologies that are based on nano/microfabrification for biology applications. LOC technologies and the development of organ-on-a-chip are based on microfluidic technology that has numerous advantages over conventional biological methodologies.

Body-on-a-chip refers specifically to a device that is integrated with multiple microtissues that mimic the whole body of an animal or human. The device may enable more cost-efficient high throughput assays in biology and drug discovery, helping scientists to understand diseases, establish new treatments, and further the discovery of new drugs.

Individual organ-on-a-chip implementations for brain, blood-brain barrier, liver, lungs, heart, and kidney tissues have already been developed.Recently, there have been some attempts to combine two or more organs on a chip. As described in the article, researchers have constructed microfluidic devices that are capable of culturing multiple types of human cells. In these devices, adipose, kidney, lung, and liver cells have been connected and perfused.

Micro-and nanoelectromechanical systems (MEMS/NEMS) have allowed the integration of mechanical and electrical functionalities into a microfluidic device. These microfluidic devices enable a real-time examination of cellular responses to mechanical or chemical stimuli with more precise control of the cellular environment than conventional macroscale methods. This technology also has the potential to contribute to the development of body on a chip.

Selection of the base material for the microfluidic devices is a critical consideration. Cost and biological compatibility are some factors to be considered.

Nanoengineered cellular substrates can be used to stimulate stem cells to facilitate their function. Human pluripotent stem cells are beneficial for developing body on a chip because of their unique characteristics, such as the ability to differentiate into any kind of cell in the body.

Body on a chip is still at the proof-of-concept stage and much effort is required for its development into a practical and useful technology. The article emphasizes the importance of interdisciplinary research to help with drug discovery and the treatment and cures for a number of diseases.


Ken-ichiro Kamei ( is currently an assistant professor with the Institute for Integrated Cell-Material Sciences (WPI-iCeMS), Kyoto University, Japan.

Yoshikazu Hirai ( is currently an assistant professor with the Department of Micro Engineering, Kyoto University, Japan.

Osamu Tabata ( is a professor with the Department of Mechanical Engineering, Kyoto University, Japan.