Towards animal-free safety testing of chemicals

University of Konstanz participates in major European project "EU-ToxRisk"

A cross-European flagship project aims at creating the basis for a more efficient and animal-free safety assessment of chemicals: The University of Konstanz joins the major project "EU-ToxRisk", an international research consortium of 39 partner organisations from industry, research organisations and European regulatory bodies. The European Commission funds the joint project in the context of its research programme "Horizon 2020" with a total of around 30 million euros.

"EU-ToxRisk" combines the latest research findings from cell biology, so-called Omics-technologies, systems biology as well as bioinformatics in order to analyse the complex chains of events that link chemical exposure to toxic outcome. The consortium will provide proof of concept for a new, animal-free chemical safety testing strategy that is based on the mechanism of cause and effect of toxic processes. These mechanistic test methods will be integrated in testing batteries that are in line with regulatory framework and are aimed at implementation in industry.

At the University of Konstanz, the Chair of in-vitro Toxicology and Biomedicine is involved as partner in the major project. The toxicologist Professor Marcel Leist and his research team in Konstanz study the potential impact of chemicals on the human nervous system and on pre-natal development. For this, the researchers will combine functional tests with modern approaches to evaluate gene expression data of cells under chemical stress. The research team will also develop methods for better risk assessment of chemicals, such as computer prediction models and methods of integrating multiple biological data sets.

"Ethical issues related to animal experiments as well as economic considerations – high costs, time delay by testing – demand a paradigm shift in the safety assessment of chemicals: away from relatively inconclusive animal experiments towards a toxicological assessment based on the analysis of responses to chemicals observed in human cells. This is the only way to reach a comprehensive, mechanistic understanding of cause and effect of harmful chemical impacts", demands Marcel Leist, who is also head of the Center for Alternatives to Animal Testing-Europe (CAAT-Europe).

"EU-ToxRisk" will kick off in January 2016 at Leiden University (Netherlands), where the project is coordinated. The major European project will run for six years.