A device that mimics a human vein could replace the need for animals for some studies. Scientists at the University of Birmingham are using the device to demonstrate the underlying mechanism of venous clot formation in research funded by the National Centre for the 3Rs (NC3R), British Heart Foundation and Wellcome.
Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) is a blood clot that develops within a deep vein, usually in the leg. The condition can be dangerous if a part of the clot breaks off and travels to the lungs, causing a pulmonary embolism.
Identifying the mechanism underlying DVT is important in understanding how to treat the condition and tapping into a market that is expected to reach $1.8bn by 2029. The developers of the device were able to demonstrate the role of a bridge between the von Willebrand Factor and a platelet surface receptor – an underlying mechanism of venous clot formation.
The device is more advanced than previous models as it can open and close valves – a key characteristic of real veins. Along with having a layer of cells inside the vessel, the vein-on-a-chip is a “realistic alternative to using animal models in research that focuses on how blood clots form” according to Dr. Alexander Brill of Institute of Cardiovascular Sciences.
Animal models are the backbone of scientific research. In 2020, 8.6 million animals were used in research in the EU. Traditionally seen as the main path to advancing research, views have changed as animal welfare becomes more prevalent in public discussions. Charities such as the RSPCA and Animal Aid have called for an to end animal testing and lethal dose tests. Emerging technologies, such as organs-on-a-chip, are facilitating the shift from animal testing to a more sustainable and ethical research landscape.
“The principles of the 3Rs – to replace, reduce and refine the use of animals in research – are embedded in national and international legislation and regulations on the use of animals in scientific procedures. But there is always more that can be done. Innovations such as the new device created for use in thrombosis research are a step in the right direction,” added Brill.