Improving the Welfare of Animals: Researchers Develop Computer-Aided Models to Replace Animal Testing

04 October 2013

(Stuttgart) – Every year, October 4 is all about the protection of animals. On World Animal Day, animal welfare organisations around the globe advocate the respectful treatment and welfare of animals. One of the central demands of the animal activists is to abolish animal testing and to use alternative testing methods instead. In this context, the European Union has taken a huge step forward at the beginning of this year: On March 11 a full ban on the marketing of cosmetics and hygiene products tested on animals entered into force in the EU.

The search for alternative testing methods for safety assessment is thus more pressing than ever. The development of such non-animal testing methods, especially when it comes to reliably predicting long-term toxic effects, represents a major scientific challenge. The NOTOX project, which is co-funded by the European Commission and Cosmetics Europe, the European trade of the cosmetics industry, significantly contributes to this endeavor by developing and validating predictive bioinformatics models characterizing long-term toxicity responses. These computer-aided models will help predict possible long-term toxic effects on the human body. In consequence, the use of living organisms to test the safety of substances to be found in daily-life products such as make-up, soap or toothpaste is no longer needed.

Computer-aided models as an alternative to animal testing

The liver is the central organ for the elimination of toxic substances in the human body. Therefore NOTOX scientists closely examine in test-tube experiments how such substances affect human liver cells in the long run. The processes and reactions they observe in the cells are being translated into highly complex computer models. The overall goal is to develop algorithms that closely mimic the processes which actually take place in human tissues when exposed to toxic substances. These computational models will allow for reliable long-term predictions and thus help to replace animal testing in the long run.

In order to achieve this ambitious goal, NOTOX brings together eleven internationally renowned and interdisciplinary research teams from all over Europe, including academic research laboratories and four small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs). In the NOTOX project, Insilico Biotechnology will use its systems biology platform to develop a new computer model of the metabolism of mammals including the signal and regulatory mechanisms. It will be optimized to simulate the effects of dose-dependent substances in several steps from molecule to tissue levels. Here, Insilico Biotechnology will apply innovative methods for high-performance grid computing. At the same time, liver cell and tissue cultures will be developed on the experimental project platform and tested for suitability for toxicity analyses. Laboratory and computer methods will be linked to develop a safe and easy-to-handle testing method which will render animal testing superfluous.

NOTOX in motion: Scientists open their labs for camera crew

Over several months a film team captured statements and pictures of NOTOX scientists in various settings and on different occasions: during project meetings and at work in their laboratories. The result is a vivid glance behind the scenes of the project, with exciting insights into the challenges of developing validated alternative testing methods. Moreover, the film shows how cutting-edge research on alternative testing methods contributes to improving the overall welfare of animals.

The NOTOX film is available on the project website: www.notox-sb.eu/film.

NOTOX Project Coordination:

Prof. Elmar Heinzle
Universität des Saarlandes
Technische Biochemie
Gebäude A 1.5
66123 Saarbrücken
T +49 681 302 2905
e.heinzle [at] mx.uni-saarland.de

Insilico Biotechnology AG:

Klaus Mauch | CEO
Meitnerstraße 8
70563 Stuttgart
T +49 711-460594-0
klaus.mauch [at] insilico-biotechnology.com

The NOTOX film as well as cleanfeed and additional footage material is available upon request from:

Dr. Verena Peuser
Eurice – European Research and Project Office GmbH
Science Park 1
66123 Saarbrücken
T +49 681 9592 3396
v.peuser [at] eurice.eu