Scientists Find a Way to Reduce Fish and Animal Usage in Experiments by Using 'Virtual Fish'

First Posted: Oct 19, 2013 10:50 AM EDT

Scientists have found a new way to cut the use of fish and other animals to test the toxicity of natural and man-made chemicals by using cells from the gills and liver of the rainbow trout fish.

Scientists from the BBSRC (Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council) found this new way of testing. The research was led by Professor Awadhesh Jha of Plymouth University, along with his fellow researchers.

They worked on the cells taken from the liver of a rainbow trout fish. The liver cells were used to form ball-like structures called spheroids. These spheroids were then placed in a Petri dish and it was observed that they behaved like normal animal tissues and gave very precise responses when they were treated with chemicals, just like the animal tissues.  

The results given by spheroids were more accurate compared to any other lab-grown cells.

"This is a real breakthrough in our efforts to reduce the numbers of fish needed for toxicology testing," Professor Jha said in a statement.

" It is very important for the health of people, wildlife and whole ecosystems that we understand the effect of chemicals, both natural and man-made, in the environment, but we must strive to avoid the use of animals wherever possible," he added.

Matthew Baron, a BBSRC funded CASE student found the fish spheroids, under Jha's supervision. These spheroids could easily be stored for over a month, compared to other animal cells. They reveal long-term impact of chemicals and toxins and are handy for the scientists.

Each fish provides the scientists with numerous spheroids, which can be used in various experiments and help in reducing the numbers of animals from being used as specimens for experiments.

The researchers are planning to create more virtual fish with the help of spheroids. The liver and gills play the role of collecting toxins from the surrounding and filtering them, this would help them portray a genuine picture of the impacts of toxins, chemicals and pharmaceuticals on animals.

"We have made further progress to compare how chemicals are metabolised in these spheroids compared to whole fish. The results are yet to be published," Jha told

"Once established for a particular species, the methodology could be translated to other species, freshwater or marine," Jha continued.

He also added that the sole purpose of the study was to reduce the number of fish used during experiments.

The use of small animals and fish by researchers and scientists draws the ire of various animal lovers and animal rights activist. This method would help in avoiding such instances.

"Everyone wants to see fewer animals used in testing so this is great news. The U.K. has always led the way in efforts to reduce, refine and replace the use of animals in research," said Professor Douglas Kell, BBSRC Chief Executive.

"Whilst the use of some animals will remain important to ensuring that the medicines and other chemicals are safe to use and won't damage the environment, we are making great strides in the combining of new laboratory techniques and computer modelling to avoid using animals wherever possible," Professor Kell concluded.

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