Could this artificial '3D lung' developed in Stevenage spell the end of animal testing?

  • ITV News Anglia's Sophie Wiggins went to ImmuONE's labs to find out more

Scientists who have invented the world's first 3D cell model of a human lung believe it could represent a major step towards the end of animal testing.

Experts at ImmuONE, based in Stevenage in Hertfordshire, have created the laboratory-equivalent of the human organ to analyse what impact inhaled medicines and cosmetic products such as fragrances and sprays have on the body.

Companies developing such new products need to meet legal requirements by showing they are safe to be inhaled - traditionally tests which are conducted on animals.

But the ability to replicate the chemical reactions in the artificial model would negate the need to test on animals in many cases.

The scientists behind the medical breakthrough said it was a "Eureka moment" when they discovered that their invention worked.

Dr Victoria Hutter, professor of vitro toxicology at the University of Hertfordshire and co-owner of ImmuONE, said: "One of the drivers for doing this is to make every breath safe, to make everything we inhale as safe as possible for our lungs."

The idea was the brainchild of Dr Abigail Martin who wanted to create an alternative method for respiratory research that did not require animal testing.

Dr Ewelina Hoffman, lead scientist, said: "Currently many inhaled products are tested on animals for example rats, dogs or guinea pigs.

"With our models, we've developed an invitro tool that the same can be tested in the laboratory, and therefore we don't need to use as many animals in the study."

Dr Martin studied her PhD at the University of Hertfordshire under the tutelage of Dr Hutter and the pair later became business partners.

They secured £2m of funding to move into new headquarters in Milton Keynes and create laboratories in Stevenage to meet growing commercial demand.

ImmuONE’s approach involves growing human lower lung tissue and immune cells to create what they say is a 3D model.

This enables them to test the impact of products on what would be the small airways of a human lung.

Dr Rhamiya Mahendran, senior scientist, said inhalation testing was more important than many people realised.

"We don't realise, the amount of fragrances or [other products] - even going to the hair salon - when it accumulates, when we inhale it, it can have a lot of downstream effects years down the line, so it's very important to do inhalation testing."

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