Jennifer Lewis’ Work on 3D Organs-on-Chips Awarded 2017 Lush Prize

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Innovators and researchers the world over work to develop products that address human wants and needs. Regulatory bodies the world over also work to ensure that the products that are made available to people don’t do irreparable harm, and many require a large burden of proof that the products under development are safe for humans before they give approval for their sale and distribution. One of the ways in which companies and research teams have undertaken to meet this burden of proof is through testing on animals. The use of animals as test subjects is one that is fraught with controversy. And in no area is this more likely to unite people in horror than in the cosmetics industry. While some may feel that animal testing is a necessary evil when developing medicines and medical treatments, those same people have a much harder time justifying the potential pain and suffering of animals in the name of something as clearly in the ‘want’ category of products rather than the ‘need’ category.

Animal testing in cosmetics is now banned in a number of countries such as the UK and India, as well as in the European Union as a whole. You don’t have to be a member of PETA, the most visible anti-animal testing and anti-animal cruelty organization, in order to want an end to animal testing for cosmetics. Instead, fighting against the subjection of animals to pain in the name of beauty has united a wide variety of people.

One company, Lush Cosmetics, has made its stance against animal testing a cornerstone of its identity and with the development of the Lush Prize has put its money where its mouth is. This prize, the largest of its kind, awards £250,000 (just over $330,000 USD) to projects whose undertaking can address the need for alternatives to and improvements over animal testing. The company described the prize in a statement released to the public:

“Frustrated by the slow pace of advancement to animal testing alternatives, the Lush founders established the Lush Prize to support the most progressive work in the field, and to have the greatest impact on their goal to end animal testing completely. The annual fund…has been designed to provide resources to projects addressing the problem of animal testing in innovative, original ways. The major focus of the prize is to put pressure on toxicity testing for consumer products and ingredients, in a way which complements projects addressing the use of animals in medical testing.”

The prize is divided across five strategic areas: science, training, lobbying, public awareness, and young researchers. This year’s science award was granted to Dr. Jennifer Lewis, a faculty member at the Wyss Institute and the Hansjörg Wyss Professor of Biologically Inspired Engineering at the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS). Her research focuses on the development of 3D human organs-on-chips, which use 3D bioprinting technology and special polymer inks to create structures composed of human cells with vasculatures and extracellular matrices. These organs mimic the functionality of their full sized counterparts and can be used to give an idea of how chemicals could interact with human tissue without having to attempt an equivalent test on human or animal subjects.

Members of the Lewis Lab’s bio-team (L-R): Sebastien Uzel, Kimberly Homan, Katharina Kroll, David Kolesky, Mark Skylar-Scott, Lucy Nam, Don Mau, John Ahrens, and Jennifer Lewis. [Image: Lewis Lab]

This is truly important work not only for the cosmetics industry but for all areas of research and development aimed at creating products and treatments to advance the human condition. There is always the bridge between development and employment that is supremely tricky and that involves the risk of not knowing the impacts of any particular product on the human system. This is the case even with animal testing, as animals and humans are not systemically equivalent. For example, pharmaceutical tests designed to predict toxicity in humans that are carried out on rodents fail 56% of the time to do so. With access to tissues created in the lab, toxicity and other tests can be performed without risking discomfort to a single living creature and while providing much greater accuracy in regard to the impacts of any particular product on human beings. This approach to testing is part of the 21st century toxicology that Lush hopes its funding will help encourage:

The Lewis Lab’s 3D bioprinting mechanism uses a special polymer “ink” (pink) to print organ-imitating tissues that can be used for in vitro toxicology studies. [Image: Wyss Institute at Harvard University]

“[As] a new approach to safety testing that focuses on human ‘toxicity pathways,’ or the sequences of molecular changes within the body’s cells following exposure to a toxic chemical. The scientific elucidation of these molecular pathways for different groups of chemicals and different toxic effects makes possible the development of non-animal safety tests that, because they are based on human cells’ responses are also more likely to accurately predict toxicity.”

This is a perfect example of when doing the right thing is also the best thing that can be done, and yet another demonstration of the ways in which 3D technologies are going above and beyond creation into changing the very way in which we understand ethics and humanity’s responsibilities both to ourselves and to our fellow creatures.

What do you think of this news? Let us know your thoughts; join the discussion of this and other 3D printing topics at 3DPrintBoard.com or share your thoughts below.

[Source: Wyss Institute]

 

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