Novel test method to replace animal testing

Figure 1: Migrating pioneer neurons under the phase contrast microscope, selectively stained by a fluorescence dye (red). (Photo: TiHo)

Testing the impact of chemo toxicity on the human development without having to resort to animal testing: To get closer to this goal, the University of Veterinary Medicine Hannover, Foundation (TiHo) and the Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V. (LZH) are developing a new in-situ test method to examine the hazardous potential of chemical substances.

„In Germany, animal protection is particularly important and anchored in the constitution. Humans may not cause animals unnecessary pain, suffering or injury”, explains the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF). In order to comply with and to extend the protection of animals, a funding program was initiated to support the research for alternatives to animal testing.

New method works without animal testing
Within the course of this program, the TiHo and the LZH are now developing a method to analyze, for example, the neurotoxic properties of  industrial chemicals or pesticides. As a result, it shall be possible for the first time to perform these analyses without animal testing.

For this alternative testing system, the TiHo develops a biological analysis method based on an insect embryo that will then be combined with a 3D imaging method of the the LZH. Thereby, disturbances in pioneer neurons caused by chemicals are detected. In these neurons, the growth of the nerve fibers towards the central nervous system is changed. In their fixed developmental patterns, defects in the growth process of neurons, the cell migration and the cell death can be seen. The precise imaging method ensures the detection required for the analysis.

The new methodology allows for high-throughput test series. Applications fields are both fundamental research as well as the pre-regulatory area for the identification of toxicologically relevant substances. Thus, animal tests in the run-up to the approval of chemicals could be replaced.

Avoiding damages in the prenatal and early childhood period
As the new method shall be used for test series to detect developmental neuro toxicity, it is also possible to investigate if individual chemicals or the combination of different substances is potentially harmful for the prenatal or early childhood development. Here, it is tested if the contact can lead to functional limitations or deformations of individual body parts or organs of the child.

Further possible applications
Moreover, the test method can be used for drug development, too. In this field it could complement or, in the long term, even replace ethically questionable and costly animal test series.

The project “Pionieraxon“ (funding code 031L0062B) is supported by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) within the scope of the announcement “alternatives to animal testing”.

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Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V. (LZH)

As an independent, non-profit research institute, the Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V. (LZH) stands for innovative research, development and consulting. The LZH is supported by the Lower Saxony Ministry for Economics, Labour and Transport and is dedicated to the selfless promotion of applied research in the field of photonics and laser technology. Founded in 1986, over 170 employees are now working for the LZH.

The focus of the LZH lies on the fields of optical components and systems, optical production technologies, and biomedical photonics. Interdisciplinary cooperation between natural scientists and mechanical engineers makes innovative approaches to challenges from the most different areas possible: from the development of components for specific laser systems to process developments for the most diverse laser applications, for example for medical technology or lightweight construction in the automotive sector. Seventeen spin off companies have emerged from the LZH up to now. Thus, the LZH has created a strong transfer between fundamental science, application oriented research, and industry.