There are people, including those in PETA, who vigorously protest the use of animals in clinical trials. Many scientists understand why the practice is hated and would probably switch to something else if they could. In their mind, it's more humane to use animals instead of humans when testing new drugs. Like all problems, however, science may have found a solution.
Researchers at the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering are currently developing what they call an "organ-on-a-chip." It's exactly as it sounds as researchers are now building microchips that behave like human organs. If successful, scientists will be able to run clinical simulations on these simulated organs to determine the effects certain drugs will have on the human body.
The video below explains the first of these "organs-on-a-chip" with a microchip that mimics the functions of a human lung. It's lined with real cells so researchers will be able to how new medicines affect these organs as if they belonged to a human.
The most amazing thing about this breakthrough is when they introduce white blood cells and bacteria into the "lung." All the cells behave just like they would in a real lung thus proving that these "organs" could one day replace testing on living beings.
Of course, the law requires that all medicine go through actual human testing as well before being sold. The "organ-on-a-chip" just allows researchers to test new drugs without having to potentially harm animals in the process. If the technology takes off, we'll only have to start worrying about robotic rights groups protesting the use of silicon in medical testing.[h/t: Science Friday]