Scientists from the University of Queensland’s Institute of Health and Biomedical Innovation (IHBI) are showcasing their alternative to animal testing at the ‘Show Some Skin’ event held today at the Institute.
Although developed as part of the IHBI’s work into wound healing, the model can also be used to test cosmetics and their ingredients replacing laboratory tests using rats or pigs, one of the Institute’s senior researchers Professor Zoe Upton explained.
"Most people would go to rats and mice for lab testing, but when it comes to testing new wound therapies, or products and cosmetics that go on human skin, pig skin is our closest alternative and is most often used.
"However, this is expensive, the test numbers are limited and of course there are ethical problems to consider, so using a human skin equivalent will reduce this use and possibly give more accurate results,” she said.
Skin cells from surgery patients
IHBI’s human skin equivalent uses skin cells from human patients undergoing surgery.
The skin cells are then isolated and processed in the laboratory so that they begin to grow healthily again. Once this occurs they can be brought back together and a human skin equivalent can be reconstructed, explained Upton.
“We deconstruct the skin and its cells and then reconstruct them – we cannot use the skin cut-offs themselves, as they are dying and we need to get the cells back to a state where they are growing healthily again,” she said.
The model, which was a finalist in this year’s Museum of Australia’s Eureka Prize for ‘Research that contributes to animal protection’, comes at a particularly important time for the cosmetics industry.
European ban on animal testing
European regulation that bans the testing of cosmetics ingredients on animals will come into force from 2009.
Companies who do not comply with this legislation will not be able to export their products into Europe – losing access to one of the industry’s most significant markets.