Virtual fish to be used in labs

fish-300x187‘Virtual fish’ research aims to reduce incidents of live animal testing

In 2011 the UK Government reported 59,000 live fish were being used in ecotoxicology studies in the UK. But the use of ‘virtual fish’ in establishing the toxicity and concentration of man-made chemicals is to be investigated by biological scientists at Plymouth University in collaboration with multinational pharmaceutical company, AstraZeneca.

Earlier research at the University has involved coaxing cells from the liver of rainbow trout and then manipulating them to form a three-dimensional spheroid. This ball of cells behaves much more like normal animal tissue than cells grown in traditional ways in the lab and so can give researchers a more accurate picture of how an animal’s body would respond to a chemical in the environment.

With a grant of £600,000 – from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), the Natural Environmental Research Council (NERC) and AstraZeneca – they plan to further develop the technique with cells from the gills and gut of fish in a move which has the potential to reduce the number of live animals required for scientific research.

Professor Jha said, “Traditionally, fundamental life processes are studied at whole organism level but for ethical and legal reasons, there has been much emphasis on the use of cells, tissues and organs grown outside the body”

The technique developed in Plymouth does not use live animals, and scientists believe just a few fish could generate enough cells for the amount of testing required, with the added bonus that the spheroids last significantly longer than other samples created in the lab, and so can be used for more detailed experiments.

“Since billions of cells from several different organs can be harvested from a single fish, it means that far fewer fish will be used in research, and those that are will not be used directly in experiments,” said Professor Jha.

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