New toxicity test could cut animal testing

To test whether chemicals are toxic to humans, researchers need to use liver cells that have been freshly harvested from mice or other mammals. A new collection of stable cell lines, described in BMC Biotechnology this week, could reduce the numbers of animals needed in such experiments.

The MMH-GH cell lines are derived from the liver cells of transgenic mice. These cells have been engineered to secrete human growth hormone when they are exposed to toxic compounds. The cells also continuously produce an activated version of the growth factor receptor, c-MET, which enables them to survive for longer than normal liver cells and to retain features of differentiated liver cells when they are grown in culture.

The researchers who created the cell lines come from Istituto Tecnologie Biomediche-National Research Council in Milan and Universit La Sapienza in Rome. They write: "We believe that the MMH-GH cell lines provide a cheap, reproducible, rapid, reliable and ethically acceptable tool," for assessing the toxicity of chemicals.

To test their system the researchers added toxic arsenic and cadmium compounds to the cells and then looked for human growth hormone in the culture media. They found that even at low doses these compounds caused the cells to secrete the hormone and were therefore deemed to be toxic. These low concentrations of the chemicals would not have been picked up by current toxicity-testing methods, which brand a chemical as 'toxic' only if it kills liver cells.

As the MMH-GH cell lines can survive for longer than cultured primary liver cells, the cell type most commonly used in toxicity testing, adopting this new technique would reduce the number of animals used in such experiments. Currently researchers must repeatedly derive fresh primary cells from animals or humans, which is time consuming, costly, and ethically undesirable.

The researchers believe that experiments using the transgenic cell lines will also b

Contact: Gemma Bradley
BioMed Central

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