KCL’s mini liver model promises more effective drug testing method

The method provides a more accurate and ethical approach to drug testing for medicines

Researchers from King’s College London (KCL) have created a mini lab-grown liver model that promises a new, more effective and ethical way of drug testing for medicines.

Uniquely created using liver cells combined with synthetic nanoscaffolds, the approach offers a promising alternative to animal models for preclinical drug screening and toxicity testing.

For decades, animal models have been used in drug discovery to test the safety of new medical candidates. However, they pose several ethical concerns and practical challenges, such as physiological differences between animals and humans, high costs and tissue availability.

Medical regulators, including the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency have encouraged the increased uptake of non-animal models in drug discovery and development.

Published in 2023, the FDA Modernization Act 2.0 permits alternatives to animal testing for drug and biological product applications.

As the liver is a major site for drug metabolism, the liver plays a crucial role in drug development. However, a key issue of drug-induced liver injury can result in toxic side effects, resulting in acute liver failure and drug withdrawals in clinical trials.

To combat this challenge, the mini livers created in KCL’s senior lecturer of pharmaceutics, Dr Bahijja Raimi-Abraham’s laboratory, work to mimic the structure and function of the human liver more accurately than traditional 2D cell culture models.

Results published in ACS Applied Materials and Interfaces showed that the lab-grown mini livers demonstrated superior cell assembly and liver replication, as well as enhanced drug metabolism capability, compared to other mini liver models that did not use the nanoscaffold.

The model holds the potential to replace animal testing in drug screening, “by accurately replicating human liver functions,… not only addressing the ethical concerns associated with animal testing but also [by] offering a more reliable platform for evaluating drug safety and efficacy,” said Raimi-Abraham.

The team also plans to apply the technology to develop models for other organs to model specific infectious diseases, such as malaria.

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