New Center for Non-Animal Chemical Testing

March 31, 2015

In exciting news for ending animals tests, Vanderbilt University and the University of Pittsburgh have announced a new center to test chemicals without using animals.


The Vanderbilt-Pittsburgh Resource for Organotypic Models for Predictive Toxicology, or VPROMPT, will receive $6 million in federal money for four years to develop toxicity tests based on three-dimensional human cell cultures, rather than the standard combination of flat cell cultures and live animals. The center is part of the EPA’s Tox 21 initiative, established in 2008 to reduce reliance on animals for testing chemicals.

According to Vanderbilt the primary goal of the new center is to develop a series of 3-D human cell cultures that are wired with sensors to record how they respond when exposed to potentially toxic chemicals.

These complex cultures exhibit cell behaviors that are much more like those of cells in living animals. By using human cells, the researchers hope to avoid misleading toxicity results caused by differences in how animal and human cells respond to the same chemical.

The researchers will develop test platforms using four different types of cells: Liver cells because of their ability to remove toxic substances from blood, fetal membrane and mammary gland cells because of the roles they play in reproduction, and limb and joint cells because of their role in development. 


Illustration of the four different types of organs-on-a-chip that VPROMPT 
researchers will be developing. (Courtesy of Vanessa Allwardt / Vanderbilt)

U.S. government reports estimate that there are about 80,000 chemicals in general commerce that have not been adequately tested to determine health risks. But scientists know that animal tests do not provide answers.

 “Given the situation we face, traditional toxicology testing procedures are simply inadequate,” said M. Shane Hutson, associate professor of physics at Vanderbilt and the lead principal investigator for the project.  “A full toxicological evaluation for a single chemical using traditional methods can cost millions of dollars, involve hundreds of test animals and take years to complete. And, as if the time and cost weren’t bad enough, existing tests haven’t proven very good at predicting chemicals’ effects on humans.”

When the Tox21 program was initiated in 2008, Dr Christopher Austin, Director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Chemical Genomics Center, said: “It's a bold, ambitious thing to try to do but our goal is to eliminate animal use in toxicology in ten years."


Great strides have been made since 2008 towards ending the use of animals in cruel toxicology tests, but more work needs to be done. CAARE believes that it can happen by 2018, but an educated and engaged public is essential to drive this issue forward.