Chip set to replace animal testing for embryo research

Researchers from Empa, the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich and the St.Gallen Cantonal Hospital have joined forces to develop an alternative to animal testing. The chip which is the focus of their work should facilitate studies into the impacts of substances and environmental influences that could prove hazardous to unborn babies.

Tina Bürki sees the placenta-embryo chip as the future for developmental toxicity tests.
Tina Bürki sees the placenta-embryo chip as the future for developmental toxicity tests. Image credit: Empa

Swiss scientists may have found a way to avoid animal testing in connection with research into embryotoxicity. A joint team from the St.Gallen-based Particles-Biology Interactions Lab of the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology (Empa), the St.Gallen Cantonal Hospital and the Basel-based Bio Engineering Laboratory of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich (ETH) is working on the development of a placenta-embryo chip. This research project is being financed by the ProCare foundation, which is based in Stäfa in the canton of Zurich.

This polymer chip, which more or less corresponds to the size of a human finger, houses “a small universe” where cells can grow to model the placental barrier and the embryo under conditions that are as close to reality as possible, further details of which can be found in an Empa press release. “We already know that such a test system can work, as a simplified prototype was developed during a preliminary study with the Bio Engineering Lab at ETH Zurich”, explains researcher Tina Bürki, who is based at the Empa lab in St.Gallen, in the press release.

According to Empa, the special thing about this new chip is that the previously used laboratory cell lines or mouse cells can be replaced by primary human cells and a human stem cell line from placenta tissue. The embryo-placenta chip makes it possible to simulate the interaction between placenta and embryo in addition to examining both the transport processes in the placenta as well as the direct and indirect harmful effects of a substance on embryonic development.

The user-friendly test kit is intended to accelerate the safety testing of new drugs. According to the information, such studies are also becoming increasingly important for safety tests of chemicals and particles in the environment.

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