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Virtual Cell testing integrates bioinformatic alternatives to replace animal trials

Virtual Cell testing integrates bioinformatic alternatives to replace animal trials


Step into a world where scientific discovery doesn’t require animal testing opens up endless possibilities for ethical and innovative research. It may sounds like sci-fi, but today it is a feasible reality, where virtual cells can actually replace live animal testing.

Virtual cell testing is based on the data obtained from in vitro trials using cell lines, which enables the development of in silico prediction models. By leveraging in vitro experiments, one can gain a deeper understanding of the interactions between time, external stimuli, and compound concentration-dependent mechanisms, enabling the prediction of outcomes through computer models.

But how does this data is transformed into virtual predictions? How can we develop accurate prediction methods and learning algorithms?

Firstly, a large amount of in vitro experimental data must be incorporated into cutting-edge computer simulations to generate accurate virtual organisms. This integration enables the anticipation of the effects of various compounds and/or environmental conditions on cells, leading to significant advancements in preventing animal testing.

In vitro testing

Featured image: DNY59, iStock license.

Secondly, the ever-evolving advancements in biotechnology, including organ-on-a-chip technology, high-throughput screening experiments, multi-omics, and mathematical biology, facilitate the implementation of automatic learning algorithms. The incorporation these innovations not only provide a holistic view of an organism’s potential response to treatments. They can also be used to futher refine the prediction of outcomes.

Virtual Cell testing holds the potential to transform animal health and nutrition trials by accelerating research advancements.

The virtual cell is a promising approach to effectively reduce animal trial costs, enable comparisons of a greater number of treatments and conditions, and speed up the results. However, like any new technology, virtual cell testing also has drawbacks and limitations. These include the dependency on animal cell culture protocols and limited data availability across different species and organs.

To overcome these limitations, a vast amount of data derived from in vitro approaches needs to be leveraged in order to develop more robust in silico prediction models.

For instance, the availability of culture cell lines that retain several properties observed in live rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss), has facilitated deeper insights into the basic functions of the digestive tract and the effects of functional feed ingredients, host intestinal immune response, barrier function, digestion and complexity of intestinal microenvironment in this species.

Recent exciting news from the Swiss Aquatic Research Institute Eawag and the University of Utrecht has introduced the idea of a «virtual animal». This concept entails building a virtual test using in vitro data from fish gill cells by recollecting data from the major organs’ cells into a single computer model. So, by observing how toxic certain chemicals are to fish cells, researchers were able to build a computer model that enables the in silico prediction on how the chemical could affect a living fish.

Whereas more research is in progress to add to the test more important organs, such intestine and nervous system, the test based on rainbow trout gill cells has been already released by the OECD as the last guideline in the field of environmental toxicology.

Moreover, multi-omics techniques such as transcriptomics, proteomics and metabolomics, can be further explored to improve learning algorithms and prediction models. With extensive molecular databases and cell lines at our disposal, we are able to advance toward more humane and precise research practices, ultimately reducing our dependence on animal testing.

In conclusion, the virtual cell is an exciting journey into a new era of scientific innovation toward the application of the 3R principles (Replacement, Reduction, and Refinement) in animal experimentation.


3R principles in animal experimentation

Do you work in animal nutrition, health or reproduction? Are you thinking of developing in silico prediction model to study new feed effects on gut health and reproduction traits? Are you wondering how omics technologies can be further explored in vitro and in silico studies?



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