Friday, 20 September 2013 21:02

Impressions from the European Congress for Alternatives to Animal Testing 2013 Featured

The European Congress for Alternatives to Animal Testing took place this year for the eighteenth time. One could therefore say that it can look back on a successful history of almost twenty years.

If you ask those involved since the beginning, this congress has developed to become one of the leaders in the field of animal-free testing methods. The professionalism of the presentations and especially the participants shows that research into animal-free testing methods long ago became a branch of research to be taken seriously. At the same time, young scientists are invited to present their first results at the congress. Taking part is quite affordable compared with other congresses and conventions.

The congress was quite in demand amongst international scientists, with talks and poster presentations from 24 countries. According to the organisers, they could not have provided any more poster boards. Amongst the presentations were a talk on the topic of “refinement” from Sri Lanka and poster presentations from Thailand, Taiwan and Korea.

Prof. Horst Spielmann presenting an overview of the development of the embryonic stem cell test as a replacement method testing toxicity.
Photo: Christiane Hohensee

Especially pleasing was the participation of ministerial representatives: Susanna Louhimies again took part on behalf of the European Commission and reported on the framework of the working group for the implementation of the EU Directive on animal testing in the areas of basic and advanced training, as well as project evaluation. Dr. Katharina Kluge from the German Federal Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Consumer Protection reported on the implementation of the EU Directive in German legislation.

From left to right: Dr. Ursula Sauer, Animal Welfare Consultant, Susanna Louhimies, Policy Officer of the European Commission, Dr. Katharina Kluge, German Federal Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Consumer Protection, Dr. Norbert Alzmann, Messerli – Research Institute Vienna, and Dr. Mangala Gunatilake, University of Colombo, Sri Lanka.

Dr. Katy Taylor, representative of the British animal welfare organisation BUAV and science advisor for the European Coalition to End Animal Experiments (ECEAE), addressed the problem of the so-called post-validation phase using the example of animal-free methods for testing skin irritation. Despite validation and ECVAM recommendation, this test is still at the stage of Member State approval and has not yet been adopted into REACH legislation, although both the OECD and the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) have approved the method.


Dr. Katy Taylor explaining the problems involved with post-validation.

Dr. Robert Landsiedel, research laboratory head at BASF described the problems involved the length of time that it takes for a method to go through the protracted validation process and actually be adopted as part mandatory test regulations. The approval for the test battery for animal-free skin sensitisation tests currently in the pipeline will not be given before 2017. This means that by the time it reaches the stage of comprehensive usability, the third phase of REACH chemicals testing, in which all sensitisation tests must be completed, will already have begun in 2018.

Prof. Günther Weindl, from the Institute of Pharmacology and Toxicology at the Freie Universität Berlin, presented the results of a comparison of different skin models using the example of testosterone biotransformation. It became apparent that there are certain differences between cryoconserved skin models, fresh human skin, e.g. from cosmetic surgery, and commercially available skin constructions.


Christiane Hohensee speaking with Dr. Dieter Runge and Dr. Jia Jia from Primacyt.

Prof. Johannes Grillari from the company Evercyte GmbH in Vienna reported on insights from research into artificial kidney cells. Compared with knock-out mice, the new model is more sensitive for tests with cisplatin, a renally toxic cytostatic drug that is used against tumours but to a certain extent also attacks healthy cells. He is developing a so-called human proximal tubular epithelial cell culture using urine samples, in which cells from certain parts of the renal tubules can also always be found.

Prof. Ellen Fritsche informed the audience about species differences in neurological development between humans and mice that she discovered using neurosphere models. The developing neurons of mice have aryl hydrocarbon receptors, with an important function in metabolising foreign substances. Humans do not develop such receptors.

Prof. Marcel Leist presented results from tests with the neural tube cell migration assay (MINC). In the case of this cell development, toxic substances lead to serious developmental defects in a variety of species. The test is suitable for detecting the lowest observed adverse effect level, i.e. the first harmful effect before cell-damage is caused. Investigating these aspects is important, in order to be able to classify substances harmful to development.

Dr. Tzutzuy Ramirez Hernandez from the department for alternative methods at BASF in Ludwigshafen presented the current validation results from different laboratories for the YAS/YES yeast test and other tests for detecting endocrinally effective substances. The results of the yeast test display a high degree of reproducibility and consistency between laboratories.

Also of interest was a presentation by Prof. Gerhard Püschel from the University of Potsdam, who has developed a cell culture model for testing botulinum toxin. For the model, neuronal cell lines are established, capable of producing a certain fusion protein that is directed to vesicles. This reporter protein is released together with the neurotransmitter in the synaptic cleft; or not, if the botulinum toxin prevents the release of the neurotoxin.

Prof. Udo Markert and André Schmidt from the Jena work group presented an alternative placenta perfusion model, which allows the investigation of the perfusion of toxic substances such as heavy metals, X-ray or venous contrast media through the placenta barrier. The model represents a complete human organ with a natural hormone and immune system – important components that have always been criticised as missing in artificial cell culture systems. A maternal circulatory system can be attached using fine tubes.


André Schmidt from the Placenta Laboratory at the Jena University Hospital explains the advantages of the placenta perfusion model to Dr. Nina Hasiwa from CAAT Europe.

The organ can be used both unilaterally, i.e. only for simulating the maternal circulatory system, or bilaterally for simulating both the maternal and the foetal circulatory system. The release of antiinflammatory substances (cytokines) can be used for investigating inflammatory process as a reaction to the introduced substances. It is also possible to investigate whether tumour cells pass from the maternal bloodstream to the foetal bloodstream.

Obviously, it is not possible to present all aspects here, but it was certainly an interesting congress.