Non-animal toxicology testing: from cell cultures to the isolated organ

© Photo Fraunhofer ITEM

Human-relevant in-vitro and ex-vivo methods are used and developed in different research projects at Fraunhofer ITEM. Such alternative methods to animal testing are steadily gaining importance, and there is increasing political pressure to reduce animal experiments also in regulatory toxicology. Besides moral and ethical motives, the paradigm shift in toxicology research is also contributing to this trend: toxicology is developing more and more from a descriptive into a mechanistically driven science aimed at predicting toxic effects in humans. The use of human cell cultures and organ slices facilitates the transferability of results to the situation in the human organism.

Our focus is on investigating inhalable substances. At Fraunhofer ITEM, validated human in-vitro and ex-vivo models of the lung are available. Besides the biological model, however, the exposure technique also plays a decisive role for the generation of robust and predictive results. This is why we use the P.R.I.T.® ExpoCube® system to study airborne substances. It allows also substances to be tested which, due to their physicochemical properties such as high vapor pressure or low water solubility, normally cannot be studied in cell-based in-vitro test systems. Furthermore, we use this system for in-vitro investigation of (nano-)particles and dusts.

At Fraunhofer ITEM, we were able to demonstrate that the isolated perfused rat lung enables identification of surface-active substances having acute toxic effects upon inhalation. The use of this model thus allows a reduction of acute inhalation tests according to OECD 403, which are very stressful for laboratory animals.