By Martha Bozic
New Durham University research may help put an end to the controversial topic of animal testing. The Department of Biosciences has created a substance called Alvetex, a polystyrene scaffold which can be used to support the growth of human tissues in three dimensions, from cells cultivated in the laboratory. This development allows for more realistic and accurate drug testing than in previous studies, which have relied on two-dimensional cell cultures in petri dishes.
It also reduces the need for animal experimentation, a controversial topic which made a return to the spotlight following the opening of the new biomedical research centre at Bristol University, last week. The event saw a small group of animal rights protestors gather outside the building for a graphic demonstration, in which a dead frog was cut open and displayed to passers-by. In a statement, a spokesperson for the university clarified that animal testing was only used ‘when absolutely necessary’.
This development allows for more realistic and accurate drug testing than in previous studies.
Professor Stefan Przyborski, of Durham University, suggested that the growth of three-dimensional cell cultures would ‘have benefits for the number of animals used in research’. Following from the first developments made in university labs, Przyborski founded a business venture to commercialise Alvetex, which has recently opened a new European headquarters in Glasgow, alongside an already operational facility in County Durham.
Current uses of the substance include studying the impact of the environment on synthetic human skin; developing three-dimensional human tissue models from pre-existing two-dimensional models; and creating a model of the human intestine for further study of the impacts of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). This could well be the beginning of a more optimistic future for our furry friends in medical research.
Photograph: Wikimedia Commons