Researchers at the Esslingen University of Applied Sciences are working on an alternative to the large number of animal experiments that are still being carried out. Researchers under the leadership of Prof. Dr. Bettina Weiß have received a grant from the Landesstiftung Baden-Württemberg foundation for work on this particular research area.
Prof. Bettina Weiß from the Esslingen University of Applied Sciences believes that many animal experiments are superfluous. The biologist, who is working on ways to reduce the number of animal experiments, points out that the cosmetic industry in particular already has many possible alternatives available.
Weiß and her team of researchers at the laboratory of cell culture technology are developing methods to replace animal experiments, which are still very common in the pharmaceutical and cosmetics industry. The researchers have financial support from the Baden-Württemberg Landesstiftung foundation for a period of twelve months. It is not only the public that is to a growing extent calling for industry to stop animal testing.
The German legislative is hoping that it will be possible to avoid the need for animal experiments almost entirely within a few years' time. "Over the last few years, simple test culture systems have been developed that enable the testing of cytotoxicity and bioavailability of pharmacological substances on individual cells," explains Prof. Bettina Weiß. This means that some industrial sectors already have validated assays available for the preclinical testing of new pharmaceutical agents that represent real alternatives to animal experiments. These test systems enable the assessment of the reaction of cells to certain substances. A pre-study at the Esslingen University of Applied Sciences will focus on the development of a co-culture model.
Lung epithelial cells are cultured in special plastics membrane inserts until they have developed a barrier function that is similar to human lung epithelium. “The density of the epithelium can be measured with a resistance measurement device before applying the samples to be investigated,” said Prof. Bettina Weiß. The epithelial cells are able to communicate with the immune system cells across a filter membrane. This allows the investigation of transport mechanisms across the barrier and the investigation of additional influences and interactions occurring with the immune system cells. In simpler terms, this means that some of the cells are combined with pharmaceutical or cosmetic substances in an experimental set-up. This then enables the researchers to study the cells and how they react to a novel substance. Experts are subsequently able to carry out analyses that help to render animal experiments unnecessary. Weiß is nonetheless convinced that it will not be possible to refrain completely from using animals in the pharmaceutical industry. But the new alternatives developed in Esslingen will at least enable some companies to test new pharmaceutical substances or drugs in ways that will please those who oppose animal testing. Prof. Bettina Weiß plans to focus in particular on drugs that are inhaled as well as on powdery or soluble substances that could have toxic or allergenic effects on the lungs and bronchia.