The Lush Science Prize aims to recognise and reward those working to eliminate animal testing in science and cosmetics. Dr Daniele Zink and Dr Lit-Hsin Loo work for the Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology and Bioinformatics Institute of the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR) in Singapore. They have been awarded one of two prizes for the successful development of alternative testing methods that accurately predict the toxic effects of chemicals on the human kidney.
The kidney is vital for clearing toxins and chemicals from the body. The methods A*Star developed predict toxicity in the renal proximal tubular cells, which are key to this bodily process.
Currently animal testing is used to predict the toxicity of many chemicals and drugs - something A*Star aims to change.
Daniele says: “The goal of the Singapore research team is to offer an animal-free alternative
for companies from the food, cosmetics, chemical and pharmaceutical industries to
accurately predict the safety of their products.”
To do this, the team combine human cells, such as stem cells, with automated image analysis software and toxicity prediction. The resulting tests predict the effects of chemicals on the kidney with an accuracy of 80-90%. What’s more the technology can be applied to other human organs, such as the liver, lung and blood vessels.
But what was Daniele’s motivation for working towards a future without animal testing.
She explains: “I have deep respect for all living creatures, and strongly believe that we must do our best to prevent suffering. This is the underlying motivation for my research.”
However her initial motivation was more scientific: “It has always been very important for me to develop high quality, robust and ethical alternative methods to replace animal testing for real-world applications. About 5 years ago, I found out there were no in vitro assays to predict kidney toxicity in humans. I could not believe it and set to work.”
She continues: “I had success with my initial ideas, and the ensuing research became driven by passion for the scientific aspects of the research, and the strong desire to develop a really good method that would eliminate the need for animal studies.
“Without good scientific results it would be difficult to replace animal experiments by alternative methods.
After winning the Lush Prize the A*Star team hope to continue improving companies’ approach to chemical testing: “Our research goal is to help companies accurately predict the safety of their products and develop safer products. I would love to see our technology eventually used not only by cosmetics companies, but also by chemical pharma and food companies.”
“That would be my biggest reward,” Daniele concludes.