Fish balls may reduce live animal tests

A NOVEL technique involving the use of structures built out of rainbow trout liver cells could reduce the need for lab animal tests in chemical safety studies, a report published today says.

Researchers led by Professor Awadhesh Jha of Plymouth University have created spherical structures of the liver cells, and found that these respond to chemicals in the environment in a way very like ordinary animal tissue. Normally, lab-grown cells are considered poor mimics of real-life responses.

Their paper, published today in the journal Ecotoxicology (subscription required), explains that a large number of these structures, spheroids, can be produced from a single fish, and that therefore the technique should mean fewer fish are needed to conduct toxicology tests.

A surprising finding is that the fish spheroids – inevitably dubbed ‘fish balls’ – can be maintained in the laboratory for over a month. Many environmental pollutants cause health problems because they accumulate over time and become more concentrated further up the food chain. Because the fish spheroids can be maintained for longer periods than normal cell cultures, long-term exposures to potential toxins can be tested.

The fish spheroids were produced by BBSRC-funded Case student Matthew Baron, who is being supervised by Professor Jha and his colleagues at Plymouth and AstraZeneca Safety Health and Environment. The approach may replace the existing technique of using flat layers of fish cells instead if live animals, which gives poor simulation of real tissues. Spheroids have previously been developed from mammal cells, but this is the first time that they have been developed from fish cells.

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