Singapore scientists win prize for developing alternative to animal testing

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LONDON - Singapore scientists have become the first in Asia to win a prestigious prize for developing a method for safety testing without the need for animal experiments.

Dr Daniele Zink and Dr Loo Lit Hsin from the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*Star) have developed an animal-free automated procedure that can accurately predict the toxic effects of chemicals on the human kidney.

In recognition of their efforts, both were awarded the Lush Prize for Science on Friday (Nov 11) at the 2016 Lush Prize Awards Dinner in London.

The prize, now into its fifth year, spans five categories including science and lobbying, and is given out jointly by United Kingdom cosmetics company Lush, and non-profit research group Ethical Consumer.

The largest prize fund for the complete replacement of animal experiments, it has awarded a total of £1.5 million ($2.06 million) to groups or individuals working in the field of cruelty-free scientific research, awareness raising and lobbying.

"The result of this makes me really happy because personally, I think that for ethical and scientific reasons, animal free methods are really very important," said Dr Zink, principal research scientist and team leader at A*Star's Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology.

By isolating kidney cells from humans, and producing them from stem cells, Dr Zink and Dr Loo, principal investigator from A*Star's Bioinformatics Institute, were able to find out - with 90 per cent accuracy - the toxicity of 44 chemicals - including antibiotics and agricultural chemicals, on kidney cells.

The accuracy was determined by comparing the test results with the effects of the chemicals on the human kidney, as previously documented in scientific papers.

They also developed an automated process that would enable them to analyse the effects on humans.

The Singapore scientists will share the total prize money of £50,000 (S$86,200) with Professor Marcel Leist, from the University of Konstanz in Germany, who also won in the science category. Prof Leist developed neuronal tissues that allow predictions of chemical effects on normal brain development.

Correction note: A previous version of the story incorrectly stated that the Lush Prize has awarded a total of £1.2 million instead of £1.5 million. This has been corrected.

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