Scientists at the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) plan to use virtual embryos for future testing of potentially toxic substances via computer simulation.
Thomas Knudsen, head of the EPA’s virtual embryo project, is concentrating on several central development processes which react sensitively to environmental influences and which are decisive for embryonic development. One of them is bloodstream development, another the development of embryos’ limbs. The project idea emerged from precursor program ToxCast, which pursues the goal of screening and identifying particularly toxic chemicals as quickly as possible using automated laboratory tests on hundreds of cell cultures. This led to the idea of integrating data derived from ToxCast into a simulation of the effects of such substances on embryonic development.
The models simulate living cells, which interact with one another as they would in real life. The program also simulates the effects of transmitters and chemicals within the cells.
The software is still in the test phase. The researchers are starting by testing the embryotoxicity of chemicals known to be problematic and correlating the results with known findings.
The scientists hope that they may thus be able to replace animal experiments in the field of toxicology.
Further information: http://www.epa.gov/ncct/v-Embryo/
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