Grant to help reduce animal testing in cancer research

A team at Swansea University’s Institute of Life Science have received a grant to develop new testing methods based on human cells, which will substantially reduce animal testing for cancer-causing chemicals in coming years.

Professor Gareth Jenkins and his team have been awarded a £400,000 grant by the National Centre for the Replacement, Refinement and Reduction of Animals in Research (NC3Rs) to find methods for assessing cancer risk that are faster, more efficient and have reduced reliance on animals.

Currently, testing chemicals used in the pharmaceutical, agrochemical, and consumer products industries for their potential to cause cancer (carcinogenicity testing) uses large numbers of animals, and are time consuming and expensive. Moreover, the latest amendment to the EU Cosmetics Directive prescribes a ban on animal testing of all cosmetic ingredients.

Professor Jenkins plans to study how chemicals interrupt the mechanisms by which cells communicate with each other, and to combine this information with current data to provide a better prediction of which chemicals are potential carcinogens.

The study, which is being conducted in collaboration with diagnostics and pharmaceutical giants Roche and GE Healthcare, will also consider how harmful chemical doses that cause effects in vitro can be extrapolated to doses likely to cause effects in vivo in humans.

Of the award, Professor Jenkins said, “This grant complements the work into animal replacement strategies already underway within the group I lead at the Institute of Life Science, including an MRC Research Leader Fellowship that is looking at 3D tissue models and a PhD studentship awarded by the NC3Rs in 2010. 

“Together, these efforts will help in designing better testing strategies to assess carcinogenicity without the need to use animals, whilst safeguarding against human exposure to harmful chemicals”

Dr Vicky Robinson, Chief Executive of the NC3Rs added, “Each year the NC3Rs strategic grants programme focuses on an area of biological research where there is a real need to advance one or more of the 3Rs (Replacement, Reduction and Refinement of animal use). Carcinogenicity testing uses large numbers of animals and currently relies on inefficient and expensive testing methodologies; our grants to Professors Newbold and Jenkins will deliver tests that will benefit both animals and the industries in which they are used.”

Dr Elmar Gocke, Group Head Genotoxicology, Non-clinical Safety, from F Hoffmann-La Roche, who is collaborating with Gareth Jenkins’ work said, “In the pharmaceutical industry, genetic toxicity testing plays an important role in screening out chemical structures that might damage the genetic material. Test results are crucial in determining the relevance to human exposure. However, the accumulation of confusing in vitro or in vivo test results can hamper, rather than aid, progress in devising new treatments. Our work with Professor Jenkins will contribute to a better understanding of the carcinogenetic processes leading to more cogent risk assessments”.

Tests on cells cultured in the laboratory for detecting a chemical’s potential to damage DNA and/or cause mutations are currently used in regulatory carcinogenicity testing strategies, but they have limitations as stand-alone tests. They have a high rate of misleading positives where chemicals that do not damage DNA in vivo are wrongly classified as potential carcinogens, which then requires animal experiments for clarification. These tests also do not detect chemicals that cause cancer in other, non-DNA damage related ways.