IBN Scientists Develop New Animal-free Drug Screening Tools

Kidneys are a primary target for any toxic effects because their work is to remove drugs and other foreign substances from the body. Now, after discovering an efficient way of developing human kidney cells from stem cells, a team of researchers has developed the initial animal free assessment platform that has the capability to accurately forecast the toxic effects of drugs on the kidney.

In the journal Scientific Reports, researchers from the Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology (IBN) explain how they designed the platform using human induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) and machine learning techniques.

Along with forecasting toxicity, they notice that the new platform also properly recognizes the injury mechanisms that a medicine may cause, which can enhance realizing of the substance and its effects.

The research team anticipates the new tool is going to be very helpful not only to pharmaceutical organizations which always seek to enhance and accelerate drug development along with decrease its costs, but also to the food and cosmetics sector.

In addition to addressing ethical concerns about using animals for toxicity studies, the system also addresses other points. For example, animal testing is costly, time-consuming and does not necessarily make sure of reliable outcomes because of inter-species variations.

The authors also observe that usually, a drug’s toxicity is not identified till the later phases of drug development, and often only after it has been marketed. So there is a requirement for methods that can identify any harmful effects much sooner in the drug development phase.

In addition, there are now several parts of the globe where it is against the law to sell cosmetic items if they have been subjected to testing on animals.

‘Extremely pure kidney cells appropriate for substance screening’

Senior author Dr. Daniele Zink, states that:

“We have formulated the quickest and most effective protocol for producing kidney cells from induced pluripotent stem cells. In about 8 days, it produced extremely pure kidney cells that were appropriate for compound testing.”

The new platform is the outcome of numerous years of work that analyzed earlier versions. These earlier versions applied human primary renal proximal tubular cells or identical cells produced from human embryonic stem cells (hESCs). But these types were not suitable because primary cells are not easy to source from the human body, and there are ethical and legal issues with using hESCs.

So the team turned to human iPSCs, which can be produced from cells that are easily identified in the body, for example on skin. The other benefits of iPSCs is that they can also be used to develop patient-specific and disease-specific designs that can enhance understanding of kidney condition and help the development of personalized treatments.

Machine understanding raises accuracy of prediction

Another significant feature of the testing platform is the use of machine learning methods. These significantly enhance the accuracy of forecast. Machine learning utilizes computer methods that teach themselves to grow and modify as they are fed new data.

Dr. Zink notes:

“We were even more capable to identify injury mechanisms and drug-induced cellular pathways by utilizing automated cellular imaging. We wish that our work will play a role to the development of safer products in long run.”

She and her co-workers are now searching to team up with industrial partners to more confirmation and implement their renal screening platforms.