Toxicity is successfully measured using human cells for the first time - and researchers say the process could replace animal testing.
Scientists developing a cruelty-free, toxicology test have become the first to win a portion of the maximum Lush prize award of £250,000. Researchers, Andreas Natsch, Terry Schulz, David Basketter and Frank Gerberick, have each been awarded a portion of the annual prize to fund further development of a skin sensitivity test which reveals how a toxic reaction travels through the human body, without the use of live animals.
The test is the first of its kind to demonstrate internally how chemicals create a complete pathway through the human body in a field of science called Alternative Outcome Pathway. Significantly, the method has had the seal of approval from global authority, the Organisation For Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), and been included in the organisation’s toxicity testing guidelines. Terry Schulz, who published a ground-breaking paper on the alternative assessment approach in 2012, was keen to pay tribute to 20 years of scientific groundwork which ‘provided the data and mechanistic understanding needed to convince the OECD that [the test] provided the depth and breadth needed for regulatory use.’ He added that the cruelty-free pathway has the potential to ‘not simply refine or reduce current animal testing but to replace it.’
Further funding is needed to help to refine and improve this breakthrough development.
Fellow contributor, David Basketter, specialises in molecular structure as a means of toxicity prediction. He hopes that further investigation will give scientists the ability to develop a means of assessment directly from chemical structure, creating a platform for more reliable, cruelty-free experiments. As a chairman of numerous European conferences on the matter of animal testing alternatives, Basketter plans to use the prize award to fund travel and promotion of the breakthrough test. He explains that ‘even when alternative methods have been validated and have been placed into OECD guidelines, ensuring their acceptance by regulators around the world represents a substantial challenge demanding repeated efforts.’
The need for increased data accuracy is driving the development of animal testing alternatives.
As well as increasing concern for the suffering of the animals involved, co-awardee, Andreas Natsch, has stated that the landmark non-animal toxicology pathway was also inspired by the need to increase the accuracy of early sensitivity tests. His creation, the 'KeratinoSens' method, which uses a human cell line in a test tube to look for a particular type of gene signalling, embodies the move towards more accurate, cruelty-free assessment methods, as scientists seek more detail on human rather than animal biology. Prize funding will allow Nasch and his colleagues to refine the test further and investigate more complex molecules in greater detail. As the test already gives valuable insight into human rather than animal reactions, Nasch explains that it ‘has the potential to fully replace animal testing in many cases, [such as] in the discovery process of selecting new safe molecules to go to the market.’
The largest award available in the non-animal testing field.
Established in 2011, The Lush Prize is an initiative which rewards the work of scientists, lobbyists and researchers who contribute to the fight against animal testing. The organisation currently offers an annual fund of £250,000, (the largest available in the non-animal testing field), which can be divided amongst winners. Awardees are decided by a panel of external judges in different areas of specialism.