Chip to re­place an­i­mals in test­ing

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - LIFE - MATTHEW PERRONE

WASH­ING­TON: Tech­nol­ogy al­low­ing cos­metic mak­ers to test for al­ler­gic re­ac­tions to their prod­ucts without con­tro­ver­sial an­i­mal tri­als is in the works and could be in use by next year.

The tech­nol­ogy de­vel­oped by Hurel, with fund­ing from cos­met­ics maker L’Oreal, is de­signed to re­place tests on mice and guinea pigs used to pre­dict skin re­ac­tions to drugs and cos­met­ics.

The de­vice uses lab­o­ra­to­ry­grown hu­man skin cells to sim­u­late the body’s al­ler­gic re­sponse to for­eign chem­i­cals.

Pre­lim­i­nary ex­per­i­ments show prom­ise, but rig­or­ous tests are still needed to de­ter­mine the tech­nol­ogy’s ac­cu­racy.

The stan­dard method for test­ing al­ler­gic re­ac­tions in­volves ap­ply­ing chem­i­cals to the ears of mice, which are later killed and dis­sected for study.

North Brunswick, New Jersey­based Hurel said this week it hoped to elim­i­nate the need for such tests, in an an­nounce­ment with L’Oreal, which pro­vided fund­ing for the test.

The prod­uct from Hurel con­sists of a glass chip with hu­man skin cells and chem­i­cals that sim­u­late the body’s im­mune sys­tem.

When a for­eign sub­stance is dropped on to the chip, the cells and chem­i­cals in­ter­act to mimic the hu­man body’s nat­u­ral al­ler­gic re­sponse.

While the prod­uct is still in the de­vel­op­ment phase, Hurel of­fi­cials say that a work­ing pro­to­type should be avail­able by the sec­ond half of next year.

In ad­di­tion to cos­met­ics, the tech­nol­ogy could be used to test house­hold clean­ers and pes­ti­cides.

Hurel chief ex­ec­u­tive Robert Freed­man said it was too early to es­ti­mate the price or sales fig­ures for the chip, but he pegged the mar­ket for a non-an­i­mal al­lergy test at $2 bil­lion (about R14.9bn) a year.

Like other com­pa­nies in the cos­met­ics in­dus­try, L’Oreal is racing to de­velop al­ter­na­tives for test­ing wrin­kle creams and lip­stick to com­ply with Euro­pean Union laws. Reg­u­la­tors there have or­dered com­pa­nies to phase out an­i­mal skin test­ing by 2013.

L’Oreal has de­creased its use of an­i­mal test­ing over the years, but still re­lies on the tech­nique to test cer­tain new chem­i­cals.

“I give L’Oreal credit for be­ing will­ing to ex­plore th­ese types of op­por­tu­ni­ties,” said Dr Charles San­dusky, of the Physi­cians Com­mit­tee for Re­spon­si­ble Medicine. “This is the first thing I’ve ever seen where the im­mune sys­tem is be­ing mim­icked without us­ing an an­i­mal com­po­nent.”

A spokes­woman for L’Oreal said the com­pany had in­vested heav­ily in non-an­i­mal test­ing over 25 years but de­clined to spec­ify how much went into de­vel­op­ing the Hurel chip.

Hurel would be free to li­cense the tech­nol­ogy to other com­pa­nies once it had been proven ef­fec­tive, she said.

San­dusky, a for­mer tox­i­col­o­gist at the En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency, es­ti­mates Hurel’s tech­nol­ogy, if suc­cess­fully ap­plied, could elim­i­nate the need for tens of thou­sands of test an­i­mals each year.

For that rea­son, the an­i­mal rights group Peo­ple for the Eth­i­cal Treat­ment of An­i­mals granted the com­pany an in­no­va­tion award this

The prod­uct from Hurel con­sists of a glass chip with hu­man skin cells and chem­i­cals that sim­u­late the body’s im­mune sys­tem

week for “an­i­mal-friendly achieve­ment in com­merce”.

Peta’s sci­ence pol­icy ad­viser Dr Kate Wil­lett said the group had been fol­low­ing Hurel’s re­search ef­forts.

Hurel was founded in 2005 and has one other prod­uct un­der de­vel­op­ment: a liver tox­i­c­ity test. Given that reg­u­la­tors gen­er­ally won’t ap­prove an ex­per­i­men­tal drug if there are signs it harms the liver, a liver tox­i­c­ity test could be a boon to drug­mak­ers who test their medicines on an­i­mals be­fore sub­mit­ting them to reg­u­la­tors.

An­i­mal test­ing can be slow and many re­searchers ques­tion how well an an­i­mal’s re­sponse to a chem­i­cal pre­dicts hu­man re­ac­tions.

By elim­i­nat­ing the time, money and po­ten­tial in­ac­cu­ra­cies as­so­ci­ated with an­i­mal test­ing, Freed­man es­ti­mates Hurel’s test could shave $100 mil­lion off the roughly $1bn cost of de­vel­op­ing a new drug. – Sapa-AP

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