A new consortium in Scotland is to develop a new 3D cell assay for use in drug discovery and for safety evaluation prior to clinical trials, in the hope of cutting costs and reducing the use of animals for testing.
With the limitations of current technology cell assays are generally only used in two dimensions from which information can be limited. The next generation of assay 'tools', will work in 3D and be able to provide data on the behavior of cells towards pharmaceuticals and stimuli when they are in a complex relationship which resembles or mimics their situation inside the human body.
Powerful techniques in microscopy and IT will be required to collect and analyze the data.
The consortium, based in Ayrshire in Scotland, will be lead by biotech company Avanticell Science, with expertise in cell biology and cell culture. The other partners include Giltech, which specializes in biomaterials, biodegradables, and controlled delivery, and Culzean Medical Devices, which designs and fabricates implantable medical devices.
Jo Oliver, the CEO of Avanticell commented: "The project will result in the next generation of cell-based assays, accelerating and reducing the cost of new drug development to treat life-threatening diseases such as cancer."
This project will thus try to fill in the gap between in-vitro and in-vivo testing and may even have the effect of cutting down the amount of animal testing that is required to bring a new pharmaceutical product to market.
David Healy, director of R&D at Giltech, commented: "The considerable challenges in this project require the integration of specialized and diverse expertise from each of the partners. What we learn from this development will further expand our understanding of the limits of our materials' capabilities and will lead us to new and emerging markets for our products."
Giltech and Culzean Medical Devices will be using their experience in bioengineering to produce a 3D scaffold which can hold cells and produce a synthetic tissue for testing. This will be the first time 3D cell based assays have been developed in the UK biotechnology sector.
Much work has already been carried out in this field by several groups. One based at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Champaign Urbana University in Illinois have published work on laser guide assembly of 3D living cell arrays in a hydrogel matrix. This group has been able to show the possibilities of synthetic biology and tissue engineering by assembling networks of fibroblasts surrounded by a ring of bacteria and also setting up complex two- and three-dimensional arrays of Pseudomonas aeruginosa.
The Scottish project will be carried out over a period of two years and be funded with a grant of £1m provided by the Technology Strategy Board, a government organization set up to promote innovation in technology. Scotland is a growing area for UK biotech investment with over 15 per cent of UK biotech companies based there.
Illustration: Microsoft Clipart.
Lab Technologist (02/27/08)