Anne is one of 2014's Lush Prize winners for her work in the field of neurotoxicity testing without animals, at the University of Konstanz in Germany.
Please could you introduce yourself and give us a brief introduction to your work.
I work in the field of developmental neurotoxicity assessment. This area deals with the question whether substances, such as chemicals or pharmaceuticals, have an impact on the development of the human brain, and may thus cause (for example) cognitive deficits. Over 1000 animals are required to test one single chemical for its developmental neurotoxic hazard. Therefore, in vitro based test systems are urgently needed. At the University of Konstanz we work hard on the development of alternative test systems to assess developmental neurotoxicity without the need for animals. Different test systems are being developed within the group of my supervisor Prof. Marcel Leist. Each of them focuses on different developmental stages of the nervous system and different kinds of cells. These models are used in preliminary tests to assess the neurotoxic hazard of chemical substances or they can be combined to a test battery. If appropriately validated and optimised, this is then expected to replace in vivo developmental neurotoxicity testing.
Why were you nominated for the prize?
More and more children are diagnosed with neurodevelopmental disorders (e.g. around 3-12% under the age of 18 in the USA) and there are studies indicating that the environment plays an important role in this increase. But it is very difficult to predict the developmental neurotoxic hazard of chemicals with animal testing, as animals differ in many aspects from human beings (development, metabolism, social behavior, life-span, etc.) Furthermore, it is hypothesised that prenatal exposure to some neurotoxicants will result in cognitive deficits much later in life – a situation hard to evaluate in animals. These facts highlight the urgency to provide alternative test methods in the field of developmental neurotoxicity.
Why did you win the prize?
In my project, a high throughput capable in vitro test, based on human neuronal cells, was developed, which enables us to assess whether chemicals pose a potential risk to the correct human brain connectivity. This provides a cheap, effective and animal-free toxicity testing method to identify putative developmental neurotoxicants. In addition, the in vitro test is complemented with modern high content technologies to understand the mechanisms of the neurotoxicants.