With rapid advances in micro-fabrication processes and the availability of biologically-relevant lung cells, the development of lung-on-chip platforms is offering novel avenues for more realistic inhalation assays in pharmaceutical research, and thereby an opportunity to depart from traditional in vitro lung assays. As advanced models capturing the cellular pulmonary make-up at an air-liquid interface (ALI), lung-on-chips emulate both morphological features and biological functionality of the airway barrier with the ability to integrate respiratory breathing motions and ensuing tissue strains. Such in vitro systems allow importantly to mimic more realistic physiological respiratory flow conditions, with the opportunity to integrate physically-relevant transport determinants of aerosol inhalation therapy, i.e. recapitulating the pathway from airborne flight to deposition on the airway lumen. In this short opinion, we discuss such points and describe how these attributes are paving new avenues for exploring improved drug carrier designs (e.g. shape, size, etc.) and targeting strategies (e.g. conductive vs. respiratory regions) amongst other. We argue that while technical challenges still lie along the way in rendering in vitro lung-on-chip platforms more widespread across the general pharmaceutical research community, significant momentum is steadily underway in accelerating the prospect of establishing these as in vitro "gold standards".
Keywords: Aerosols; Cellular airway barrier; Inhalation assays; Microfluidics; Organ-on-chip.
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