02/11/2016 13:00 GMT

This Harvard Robot Is Chain-Smoking Cigarettes To Save Lives

It could lead to better treatments for smoking-related diseases.

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease is the third leading cause of death globally, but medics don’t know exactly how it affects sufferers’ lungs. 

Now, researchers at Harvard University have built a robot which smokes cigarettes – the disease’s primary risk factor – just a like a human, in an attempt to address the knowledge gap.

The device comprises an elaborate smoking system and a “lung on a chip”, allowing scientists to monitor the impact of smoke on human cells. 

In a short video explanation (see above), Harvard’s Don Ingber explains that the system could help researchers develop more effective treatments for the illness.

Sciencefoto.De - Dr. Andre Kempe via Getty Images
A CT scan of of healthy human lungs.

Researchers said that neither animal testing nor conventional human cell testing provides an accurate representation of how humans smoke.

Even human studies have their shortcomings, according to scientists, as smoking effects different people in different ways. 

But the “lung on a chip” solves this problem.

Researchers can insert a sample of a person’s lung cells into “the lung on a chip”.

They can then monitor the impact of the smoke on the sample cells, and compare it with the actual lungs of the non-smoker participant.

The video explainer is well worth a watch, not least because it shows the amazing lengths the scientists went to to simulate how people smoke.