Automated kidney test does away with animals

Normal cells (left) and cells treated with aristolochic acid (right), a banned compound.
Normal kidney cells (left) and kidney cells treated with aristolochic acid (right), a banned compound.PHOTO: INSTITUTE OF BIOENGINEERING AND NANOTECHNOLOGY

Singapore researchers have developed the world's first automated procedure, based on image analysis, for predicting whether chemicals in consumer products would be harmful to the kidney, without the need to test them on animals.

The Agency for Science, Technology and Research, A*Star, which ran the project, said it addresses a critical need for animal-free chemical safety testing.

This is particularly important as a ban on animal testing for cosmetics has been implemented in the European Union, Norway, India and Israel, with many more countries expected to follow suit.

The new technique may be useful to companies from the food, cosmetics and pharmaceutical industries, among others, added A*Star. It would enable them to develop safer products for consumers.

In developing the procedure, researchers at A*Star's Bioinformatics Institute (BII) and Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology screened more than 25,000 images of two million kidney cells for their reactions to over 40 different chemicals.

These include industrial chemicals, antibiotics and agricultural chemicals.

The automated screening was performed using software developed by a BII team led by Dr Loo Lit-Hsin.

The scientists could identify characteristics of kidney cells that indicated the toxicity of chemicals with an accuracy of up to 90 per cent.

This level of accuracy would allow researches to make greater headway in protecting the vital organ that filters the blood and expels waste material from the body.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 05, 2016, with the headline 'Automated kidney test does away with animals'. Print Edition | Subscribe