In Vitro Toxicity Tests Outperform Animal Models in New Study

The Toxicology in the 21st Century (Tox21) program aims to develop better and more efficient methods to assess whether certain chemicals have the potential to adversely affect human health. Since its inception in 2008, researchers have been developing cell-based tests and examining thousands of chemicals to determine their potential to disrupt biological pathways that can lead to toxicity.

One of the goals of the Tox21 program is to reduce the current reliance on animal testing for toxicological evaluations by using in vitro models that are faster and less expensive than traditional approaches. A study in Nature Communications published last month carefully examined the data from these cell-based tests to determine their ability to help achieve the goals of the Tox21 program.

Researchers examined the largest set of high quality in vitro toxicity data known to date, from the testing of approximately 10,000 chemicals—including pesticides, industrial chemicals, food additives and drugs—in triplicate at several concentrations in 30 different, automated, cell-based assays.

According to Dr. Ruili Huang, lead author on the study and co-chair of the bioinformatics working group of the Tox21 initiative, the in vitro robotic screening tool used in these studies is very efficient. “We can test all the chemicals at 15 different concentrations each and in three independent experiment runs in one week. With animal testing, this would take years.”

Not only is the system efficient, it is accurate and predictive. The cell-based models were better at predicting human toxicity end points than animal models.

Future work will be focused on optimizing the existing in vitro assays and developing additional tests to examine other pathways and targets that could be important for toxicity. Researchers will also expand the number of compounds tested to include nearly 80,000 chemicals that humans are already exposed to that are in need of testing for potentially toxicological effects.

We are very encouraged by the progress that is being made using in vitroapproaches to predict adverse health outcomes in humans and look forward to the day that safety testing of chemicals is conducted without using animals. What are your thoughts on the article? Please send your questions and comments to I look forward to hearing from you.

–Dr. Pam Osenkowski, Director of Science Programs

Animal-Free Toxicity Testing
January 26, 2016

Scientists debut a system that can quickly test the toxicity of thousands of compounds in vitro.

For more information see: The Scientist

This entry was posted in News and tagged on February 8, 2016.
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