Wake Forest teaming with feds to test for chemical warfare antidotes

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — Wake Forest’s Institute for Regenerative Medicine has been chosen to lead a one of a kind $24 million federally funded study, that will develop miniature human organs which can be used to test and develop antidotes for a range of harmful chemical and biological agents, sometimes used in weapons.

The Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center, Pacific is working with the National Defense Threat Reduction Agency to help fund and monitor the study.

The goal is build an entire system of organs like a lung, heart, blood vessels and liver then test their reactions individually and as a system to different types of agents and possible countermeasures. Doctors say it also helps reduce the need for animal testing.

“We really don’t have a good way to test some of these chemical and biological elements and that’s the challenge and we certainly can’t do it in a humane way either,” said Dr. Anthony Atala of Wake Forest.

Dr. Atala said the miniature organ system would be called a “body on a chip” and uses the human cells to create the small organs that can circulate therapies and drugs to better test their impact on human tissue.

“By doing so, hopefully, this will allow us to develop better systems to treat the effects of these agents. Agents like sarin and other nerve gases and toxic agents would be the type of agents we’d like to test with this system in future,” said Atala.

Wake Forest is leading the efforts but Brigham and Women’s Hospital, The University of Michigan, The U.S. Army Edgewood Chemical Biological Center, Morgan State University, and The Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health are also participating.

The grant will be spread out over 5 years and will allow Wake Forest to hire additional employees, devoting up to 30 researchers to the “body on a chip” research.

“By having a system that allows you to test these drugs and test what they do in human tissue really gives you a lot stronger information to go by when trying to create treatment plans,” Dr. Atala said.