First Animal-Free Screening Platform Developed For Testing Kidney Toxicity Of New Drugs, Cosmetics

Researchers in Singapore describe how they developed the first animal-free screening platforms that predict a drug’s toxicity on the kidneys in the journal, Scientific Reports. Animal activists will be delighted to learn that these researchers found an effective way to produce human kidney cells from stem cells, so that the effect of a new drug on the kidneys will no longer need to be tested on animals. This new animal-free screening platform is capable of accurately predicting a drug’s toxic effect on kidneys. It’s a lab mouse’s dream come true!

The kidney cells were generated from human-induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) and machine learning methods. The iPSCs are human cells from the skin that have been “reprogrammed into their pluripotent state,” according to Medical News Today. The new platform that they developed reduces the need for animals tests and also correctly identifies the actual mechanisms that a drug would induce making it even easier to fully understand the effects of the compound it is testing.

The Singapore team of scientists say that this new platform will be useful to pharmaceutical companies in order to improve and speed up safety testing during drug development. It will also reduce the costs of testing. The platform will have important applications in the cosmetic and food industries too, according to a press release.

Using animals in safety tests has drawbacks in addition to the ethical concerns brought up by animal rights activists. Animal testing is expensive, time-consuming, and not fully effective due to the differences between species. The authors pointed out that with the current method of toxicity testing using animals, a drug’s toxicity is sometimes not detected until after it has been marketed. The new platform will more effectively flag potentially toxic effects earlier, during the developmental phase.

It will also be helpful because in some places, such as Israel, India, and the European Union, it’s illegal to sell cosmetic products that have been tested on animals, Medical News Today reported.

“We have developed the fastest and most efficient protocol for generating kidney cells from induced pluripotent stem cells. Within eight days, it yielded highly pure kidney cells that were suitable for compound screening,” Senior author Dr. Daniele Zink, IBN team leader and principal research scientist, explained.

Earlier versions were not ideal because they used human embryonic stem cells (hESCs) to create the simulated cells. Human embryonic cells come with ethical and legal concerns. Human iPSCs can be generated from readily available cells found in the body, like on the skin. Human iPSCs can also be used to develop patient- and disease-specific models in order to develop personalized therapies.

This platform greatly improves the accuracy of the toxicity tests, Zink noted.

“We were further able to identify injury mechanisms and drug-induced cellular pathways by using automated cellular imaging. We hope that our work will contribute to the development of safer products in future.”

Given all of the concerns about animal testing, many companies are working towards animal-free testing platforms. For example, Unilever is developing a non-animal approach for testing ingredients that may cause skin allergy.

“We use a wide range of non-animal approaches to assess the safety of our products for consumers. We do not test our products on animals and are committed to ending animal testing. Our leading-edge research has one clear purpose: to continue to develop new non-animal approaches that can guarantee that our products are safe, without any need for animal testing.”

Trying to reduce animal testing of cosmetics in China, the U.S. non-profit laboratory called the Institute for In Vitro Sciences (IIVS) announced in August that it was providing in-depth training for two scientists from the Zhejiang Food and Drug Administration’s Institute for Food and Drug Control (ZJFDA IFDC). The focus of the training was to demonstrate how to use more predictive and human relevant test methods like reconstructed human skin and eye models.

Would you like to see more efforts made towards developing more predictive testing methods that do not use animals?

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