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Soft-cell approach cuts animal tests

The new in-vitro technique pioneered by Dr Amanda Hayes and her UNSW colleagues, Shahnaz Bakand and Chris Winder, directly exposes human cells to airborne toxicants and measures cytotoxic effects. The cells are grown on a porous polyester membrane inside a small diffusion chamber and then exposed to selected toxic air pollutants. After as little as one hour's exposure, they can study cell growth and metabolism, and a range of routine toxicological endpoints.

Importantly, the toxic measurements obtained by the in vitro method, such as the amount of a contaminant needed to inhibit cell growth, mirror well-established lethal values obtained from animal studies - a long-established method in toxicological studies. "In-vitro toxicity tests can improve the scientific, economic, and ethical value of research and play a significant role in the screening of toxic chemicals and the replacement of animals," Dr Hayes says.

This research earned Hayes and her colleagues the 2006 Australian Museum Voiceless Eureka Prize for Research. This prize rewards scientists for work that has reduced the use of animals or animal products in laboratory-based research, education and testing.

Many industrial and environmental air pollutants are already known to have adverse health effects on the respiratory system of workers. Increasingly, new formulations are using tiny nanoparticles and ultrafine particulates in cosmetics, pharmaceuticals and petrochemical products. Little is known about their toxicity and safety to human health but this new category of pollutants poses possible dangers, both medically and environmentally, especially if they get airborne.

Most nanoparticles have a high surface area-to-mass ratio that can make the particles very reactive or catalytic. Being so small, they may also be able to pass through cell walls in organisms, and their reactions inside the body are relatively unknown.

"These tiny new substances are the tip
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Source:University of New South Wales


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