It is time to think of 3D models! U.S. EPA is phasing out animal research by 2035.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has announced that it plans to stop conducting or funding studies on mammals by 2035. This movement makes EPA the first regulatory agency to put a hard deadline on phasing out animal research.
“Animal testing is expensive and time-consuming,” said EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler. “Scientific advances that don’t involve animals are allowing researchers to evaluate chemicals faster, more accurately, and at a lower cost.”Therefore, the agency is turning its attention toward non-animal models, such as organ-on-a-chip technology and artificial organs. To help the industry prepare for this change, EPA has announced $4.25 million in funding to five institutions to develop non-animal alternatives to current tests: Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland; Vanderbilt University and Vanderbilt University Medical Center, both in Nashville; Oregon State University in Corvallis; and the University of California, Riverside.
Will advanced 3D cell culture models drive the future?
Animal models provide a useful tool to study biology, but they are not always able to accurately recapitulate human tissues/diseases. In vitro 3D cell culture models bridge the gap between unrealistic in vitro 2D culture and animal models, allowing the study of human cells in a physiologically relevant environment with the convenience and speed of an in vitro model.
3D culture systems can be divided into two broad categories, scaffold-free and scaffold-based methods. For 3D cell culture experiments, scaffold-based systems provide a high degree of reproducibility, and provide physical stability not achieved with scaffold-free methods, but which is generally required for routine assays. Some of the most commonly used types of scaffolds are hydrogels.
Both natural and synthetic hydrogels have been investigated for the encapsulation of cells due to their potential to better mimic the mechanics, composition, and structural cues of native tissues over polymeric scaffolds. Naturally derived hydrogels such as those based on ECM protein collagen or commercially available Matrigel (a mixture of basement membrane proteins) possess inherent bioactivity, and they can promote many cellular functions, leading to increased viability, and proliferation. However, the ability to control the properties of such hydrogels is limited, meaning the ability to tailor a 3D model for specific cell/tissue types is limited. Additionally, these animal-derived materials often suffer from poor batch-to-batch reproducibility and complex handling, which are major limitations for their use in drug screening assays. On the other hand, synthetic hydrogels (e.g. PEG, PLA, peptide-based) can be consistently manufactured and can be designed to provide both the optimal physical environment and in some cases chemical cues for specific cell types. However, in some instances, such synthetic materials can often pose significant challenges with respect to biological compatibility and cell viability. This limitation can be overcome by combining natural and synthetic materials to achieve semi-synthetic composite materials, or alternatively, peptide-based hydrogels can be designed to incorporate biomimetic sequences from ECM proteins to create synthetic hydrogels which can mimic in vivo functionality.
If you want to learn more about how peptide-based hydrogels can change the outcome of your future research, contact us.