Improving the welfare of animals: Researchers develop computer-aided models to replace animal testing

October 2nd, 2013
Every year, October 4 is all about the protection of animals. On World Animal Day, animal welfare organisations around the globe advocate the respectful treatment and welfare of animals. One of the central demands of the animal activists is to abolish animal testing and to use alternative testing methods instead. In this context, the European Union has taken a huge step forward at the beginning of this year: On March 11 a full ban on the marketing of cosmetics and hygiene products tested on animals entered into force in the EU.

The search for alternative testing methods for safety assessment is thus more pressing than ever. The development of such non-animal testing methods, especially when it comes to reliably predicting long-term toxic effects, represents a major scientific challenge. The NOTOX project, which is co-funded by the European Commission and Cosmetics Europe, the European trade association of the cosmetics industry, significantly contributes to this endeavor by developing and validating predictive bioinformatics models characterizing long-term toxicity responses. "These computer-aided models will help predict possible long-term toxic effects on the human body", explains Elmar Heinzle, Professor of Applied Biochemistry and Biochemical Engineering at Saarland University, who coordinates the NOTOX project. In consequence, the use of living organisms to test the safety of substances to be found in daily-life products such as make-up, soap or toothpaste is no longer needed.

Computer-aided models as an alternative to animal testing

The liver is the central organ for the elimination of toxic substances in the human body. Therefore NOTOX scientists closely examine in test-tube experiments how such substances affect human liver cells in the long run. The processes and reactions they observe in the cells are being translated into highly complex computer models. The overall goal is to develop algorithms that closely mimic the processes which actually take place in human tissues when exposed to toxic substances. These computational models will allow for reliable long-term predictions and thus help to replace animal testing in the long run.

In order to achieve this ambitious goal, NOTOX brings together eleven internationally renowned and interdisciplinary research teams from all over Europe, including academic research laboratories and four small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs). Apart from Professor Heinzle and his research team, additional partners from Saarland are involved in the project. These include the department of Genetics/Epigenetics at Saarland University, the German Research Centre for Artificial Intelligence (DFKI) as well as the European Research and Project Office GmbH – Eurice, responsible for the management of a large number of European research projects at Saarland University.

NOTOX in motion: Scientists open their labs for camera crew

Over several months a film team captured statements and pictures of NOTOX scientists in various settings and on different occasions: during project meetings and at work in their laboratories. The result is a vivid glance behind the scenes of the project, with exciting insights into the challenges of developing validated alternative testing methods. Moreover, the film shows how cutting-edge research on alternative testing methods contributes to improving the overall welfare of animals.

More information:
The NOTOX film is available on the project website: http://www.notox-sb.eu/film

Provided by Saarland University

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