Nanotech discovery could bring about the end of animal testing

30 Nov 2009

Toxichip, a new nano-biotechnology solution developed at the Tyndall Institute in Cork, has the potential to replace animal testing used in toxicity screening.

The discovery, unveiled by the Minister for Education and Science Batt O’Keefe on 30 November to mark the beginning of Nanoweek, is a sensing system that monitors the effects toxicants have on human and animal cells.

For example, it is capable of monitoring how cells behave and interact with drugs, chemical pollutants in the environment and toxic substances in food and beverages. Cell-based biosensors, developed and fabricated at Tyndall, integrated in the Toxichip platform also have the potential to replace animal testing now used in toxicity screening.

The funding for the project was from the FP6 European programme and included several European academic and industry partners.

Nanotechnology’s importance to Ireland

“Nanotechnology is growing ever more important to Ireland’s future competitiveness,” Prof Roger Whatmore, CEO, Tyndall National Institute, explained.

“Through Government and industry funding, we now have a world-leading infrastructure in place with the Competence Centre for Applied Nanotechnology (CCAN), the Tyndall National Institute and CRANN based in TCD where over 600 researchers are now working in nanoscience. This infrastructure gives us the means to continue building on the expertise we have developed over the past number of years in nano and continue to develop and produce ground-breaking solutions like Toxichip.”

Leonard Hobbs of Intel Ireland noted that the recent establishment of the Competence Centre for Applied Nanotechnology is critical to the development of the nanoscience ecosystem in Ireland.

“The CCAN was established by companies coming together to define their common research interests, which will have a strategic impact on their business area in the coming years. Centres the calibre of the CCAN are essential if we are to be at the forefront of new technology research, making the most of synergies between academia and industry to establish Ireland as a global centre of excellence for nanoscience.” 

Toxichip sparks interest

Many companies from diverse industries have already expressed a strong interest in Toxichip. There is considerable demand from pharmaceutical, cosmetics and chemical companies for more sensitive and reliable in-vitro test methods and technologies.

Companies are also committed to introducing in-vitro toxicity testing earlier in their discovery and development processes to contain costs and to reduce the attrition rates of pre-clinical and clinical testing due to toxicity concerns.

Launching the Toxichip, O’Keeffe said: “The creation of a strong research, innovation and commercialisation ecosystem is a core part of the Government’s vision for a Smart Economy.

“The Toxichip is a wonderful example of that Smart Economy in action. The development demonstrates our capacity to create highly innovative new products when the supports are put in place to allow academia and industry to collaborate. We now have over 600 researchers working in nanotechnology and 300 students undertaking PhD programmes related to nanoscience.”

By John Kennedy

Photo: Toxichip is a sensing system that monitors the effects toxicants have on human and animal cells.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years