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'Micro-lungs' could bring an end to animal testing, say Cardiff University bioscientists
Fusing liver and lung cells to create "micro-lungs" the size of a baby's
fingernail could eventually eliminate the need for animal testing,
scientists have claimed.
Cell biologist Dr Kelly BeruBe -- who led the project -- said the potential for the applicability of the Metabo-Lung could be worth "billions of pounds".
The development work now under way at Cardiff University could offer a genuine alternative to animal testing for pharmaceutical companies developing new drugs for pulmonary disorders such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and cystic fibrosis.
More people die in the UK from respiratory disease than from coronary heart disease or non-respiratory cancer -- and researchers claim that there have been few treatments produced for respiratory conditions in the past 25 years. And Dr BeruBe said testing in animals had proven to have a "high error rate" in indicating the efficacy of drugs treating lung conditions.
"Before I took over my own lab, back in 1995 or so, we used animals in tests and it was OK then to do that," she said.
"But by the time the mid-2000s came around, the environment had changed and the EU started to put laws in place saying that testing on animals would be outlawed."
She said massive pharmaceutical companies then started looking at alternatives to animals for testing.
Dr BeruBe said: "It is a highly emotive subject, and we are looking at ways to reduce the need for animals in my own lab. It was then I began to look at medical waste tissue -- when someone dies, and donates the parts, and we can buy that tissue and basically do what we want with it."
She added: "By mimicking what is happening in a human lung environment, it is very clear from the tiny amount of donated tissue what could happen in a normal lung.
"You can take 5,000 cells and re-grow that into 400 miniature lungs the size of a baby's fingernail -- about five to six millimetres in diameter."
Substituting as tiny working models of human lungs, the Metabo-Lungs can be used to test the toxicity of drugs and potentially adverse reactions to new treatments, potentially reducing and replacing the need to test on animals.
The process could also slash costs associated with the drug testing
The Metabo-Lung also holds potential for the testing of cosmetics, as all
animal testing on cosmetics will be outlawed by the European Union by 2013.
It was revealed earlier this year that experiments across Wales, including on animals, had increased by 20% within a year.
"Having innovative ways like this, that are using human models, shows
that we are getting closer all the time to eliminating the need for animal
testing," she said.