This contraption here is a robotic cigarette smoking machine, one programmed to puff away at various intensities to see what happens. And they've loaded it up with living samples of lung tissue.
The Microengineered Breathing Lung Chip is what they call an "organ-on-a-chip" containing human airway epithelial cells, taken from both healthy donors and COPD patients. They then hooked these miniature lungs to the robot mouth and had the stinking robot breath sprayed all over them, with the team checking for the development of smoke-induced problems that might trigger COPD in human smokers.
And it did just that. The technical research paper says that the transparent nature of the DIY lung chip meant they could see, live, the effects of the smoke interacting with the ciliary function of the tissues, letting them track a bigger inflammatory response in the samples taken from sufferers of COPD.
Donald Ingber, the man behind the test, thinks it'll be good for comparing the effects on the lungs of e-cigs and normal smoke ones, saying: "We can now begin to decipher which cell types, cellular functions and genes contribute to smoke-induced injury in normal lung, as well as during COPD exacerbations in individual patients, and thereby, identify common as well as patient-specific disease factors." [Wired]