Allergy testing with human cells

10 August 2011

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Category: Animal welfare & alternatives

skin–allergy.jpgAllergic reactions to everyday chemicals are common causing eczema in millions of people, and tests on animals have been important in testing new chemicals for skin sensitisation.

However, a Europe-wide ban on animal testing of cosmetic products and ingredients comes into effect in 2013 so scientists urgently need to find new ways to ensure that chemicals which come into contact with the skin are safe.

Now a new test for identifying which chemicals may cause an allergic reaction has been developed that provides an alternative to using animals. The new test uses a human cell line which behaves like the specialised skin cells that mediate immune responses. The cells were exposed to chemicals that are known to cause immune responses in humans and to others that do not.

By measuring the effect these chemicals had on the cell's genes, the researchers were able to identify a 'biomarker signature' of 200 genes that accurately predicted whether the chemical would cause an immune reaction or not. The assay also indicated how severe the reaction would be.

Although more experiments will be required to ensure the system is reliable, the assay could provide a viable alternative to animal testing for establishing the allergic impact of new substances.