SINGAPORE — Less-cruel ways of testing the potential harm of chemicals that do not involve the use of animals could be developed here, under a partnership between Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR) and the United States’ Environment Protection Agency (EPA).
In particular, they will focus on the areas of kidney, liver and developmental toxicity, such as a novel type of “liver spheroids” that resemble liver tissue that could be used for toxicity testing.
The collaboration will also build on the EPA’s ToxCast programme, which has collated and generated data on more than 1,800 chemicals that can be used to predict the safety of those chemicals in the future.
The announcement comes amid growing urgency within scientific circles to seek animal-free methods in research, following a 2013 ban on the sale of cosmetics developed through animal testing in the European Union.
Tens of thousands of chemicals are currently in use, and hundreds more are introduced every year in products like preservatives, sunscreen filters and washing detergent.
But as chemical testing is resource-intensive, only a small fraction of chemicals have been fully evaluated for potential human health effects, said Dr Russell S Thomas, director of the EPA’s National Centre for Computational Toxicology, at the Symposium for Non-Animal Approaches to Predict Safety and Efficacy, organised by A*STAR.
Dr Kenneth Lee, senior director of A*STAR’s Biomedical Research Council, said a 2007 US National Research Council report had brought to the fore issues surrounding animal testing as a predictor for human toxicity. “Even though we share a 99 per cent similarity in genes with mice … humans are definitely no 70kg mice,” he said, adding that A*STAR had already developed capabilities that could help in the search for non-animal testing methods.
For example, a team at A*STAR’s Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology (IBN) has already developed a kind of 3D liver spheroids that allow for better control during testing.
In the area of kidney toxicity, the IBN and the Bioinformatics Institute (BII) have developed a cell-based platform for the accurate prediction of kidney toxicity in humans. It uses proximal tubular cells, which IBN found a way to produce from human-induced pluripotent stem cells effectively. IBN and BII also developed a process that could test much larger numbers of compounds at much lower costs.
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