Replacing the replacements: Animal model alternatives
October 12, 2018 –When it comes to mimicking human disease or predicting the human body’s response to candidate drugs, traditional laboratory animal models are woefully inadequate. New technologies—3D cell culturing, human induced pluripotent stem cells, and gene editing—are leading to new solutions for replacing, refining, and reducing animal models.
Six years ago, Ping Yeh’s oncologist told him his Hodgkin’s lymphoma was resistant to the standard chemotherapy regimen and he would need a more potent, seven-drug cocktail. The treatment knocked his cancer into remission, but afterward Yeh needed an ultrasound to check whether the treatment, which can be cardiotoxic in some patients, had damaged his heart.
“The treatment could have cured me. Or cured me and killed me,” says Yeh, a nanotechnologist. “It was a pretty scary experience and it planted the seed for me to figure out if there was a better way to test for drug safety.” That seed sprouted into Minneapolis-based StemoniX, which Yeh cofounded in 2014 for the purpose of combining advances in engineering, manufacturing, and human stem cells to develop drug screening and testing platforms with more relevance to human physiology.
Fortunately, Yeh’s heart was spared. Unfortunately, patients like Yeh encounter toxic or ineffective drugs all too often, because the animal models used to test drugs before they go into patients are imperfect in many ways. Of all the drugs that enter clinical trials, only about 10% go on to be approved (1). The other 90% fail during trials—for reasons ranging from off-target, undesirable effects and problematic dosing, to low or no efficacy, and the worst-case scenario, toxicity.
“The closer you can get to mimicking the human situation, the better the research is going to be in [terms of] understanding the fundamental pathology of disease and also in predicting patient efficacy and toxicity of drug therapies,” says Richard Eglen, vice president and general manager of Corning Life Sciences in Boston, Massachusetts.
However, the challenge will be to design models that hold significant advantages over current approaches. That means producing models that give robust, reproducible data, that are predictive of human biology, and that will not greatly increase costs. StemoniX, Corning, and several other companies are coming up with innovative ways to meet that challenge.
StemoniX® is transforming how medicine is discovered. By using skin or blood to create functioning microHearts® and microBrains®, StemoniX is making it possible to test medication on humans without that medication ever entering their bodies. This method of drug testing will speed up the search for new cures and enable the ability to test drug effectiveness on an individual person, so medicine works correctly the first time. For more information visit www.stemonix.com.
Interested in getting in touch? Send us an email firstname.lastname@example.org and we will be happy to get back to you.