Artificial Liver for Safer and more Effective Drugs: Three-Dimensional Liver Tissue Models for High-Throughput Screening of the Efficacy and Hepatotoxicity of Drugs

Challenge: Poor efficacy and unpredictable toxic effects are leading causes for the removal of drugs from the market. Many drugs act unpredictably in patients because the preclinical studies fail to accurately model human biology. In particular, the liver requires special attention as it is responsible for metabolizing drugs. Thus, improved liver models could identify and eliminate toxic and ineffective drugs earlier in the drug discovery process.

Solution: To meet this need, the team has developed three-dimensional liver microtissues that demonstrate improved functionality over standard liver models. The team incorporates these microtissues in a microfluidic platform to model arrays of tissue containing blood vessels. This new and improved liver model is unique in its compatibility with standard laboratory equipment and the pharmaceutical industry R&D processes, ensuring ease of implementation with minimal time and effort. The new liver model is optimised to achieve functionality more similar to native human liver tissue than is possible with conventional models. The system was validated to improve liver cell viability and metabolic function compared with conventional models.

Achievements/Impact: At completion of the project, the team has delivered a microfluidic platform which has broad utility for microphysiological system modeling, including vascularized liver modeling. In addition to being compatible with laboratory infrastructure and workflow, this new technology shows promise as an alternative in vitro model system to improve upon the limitations of traditional liver models for drug development. It could theoretically be implemented as a cell culture model for any vascularized tissue. A Canadian patent has already been awarded for the new technology while US and EU patent applications  continue to be prosecuted. A partnership with CellScale was also established to further develop the microfluidic platform into a market-ready product.

Principal Investigator:

Craig Simmons
University of Toronto


Michael Sefton, Denis Grant, M. Dean Chamberlain
University of Toronto

Completed Project
$300,000 / 2 years
Supported by CQDM through:
• Pfizer
• Merck
• Janssen
• Sanofi
• Boehringer Ingelheim
• Novartis
And by co-funding partner: