'Desktop Humans' being created as toxicity crash-test dummies

Pharmaceutical testing has, for decades, had to deal with the strange duality of progressing towards curing human ailments through the deaths of test animals. Skipping the initial animal testing and simply starting in on humans is even riskier, so scientists have begun the search for an alternative. One solution: building a tiny human body that fits easily on your desk.

It sounds like some sort of Orwellian nightmare, but the concept is actually further along than you might think. It's called the ATHENA (Advanced Tissue-engineered Human Ectypal Network Analyzer) project, and it's funded by the U. S. military's Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA). Nineteeen million dollars of the U.S. defense budget will go to project ATHENA over the next five years, eventually resulting in "a lung that breathes, a heart that pumps, a liver that metabolizes and a kidney that excretes — all connected by a tubing infrastructure much akin to the way blood vessels connect our organs."

Those are the words of head project scientist Rashi Iyer, who has already overseen the construction of liver, heart, lung and kidney constructs for the project. To be clear, these "constructs" aren't robotic, they're in vivo replicas of functioning organs, developed by bioengineers. The team has even gone so far as to come up with a name for their new desktop humans, calling them Homo Minutus. They intend to connect the heart to the liver this winter, followed by the lungs and kidneys.

At that point, the system will function like your own organs do, only Homo Minutus won't have a brain, bones or muscles. Instead, this beating heart and breathing lung will simply exist on a desk until its functions are ceased due to some drug or bio-weapon. Of course, there's always more where that came from.

Los Alamos National Lab, via The Verge

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