Assessing toxicity through innovative technology

The Challenge

One of today’s greatest public health challenges is the inability to easily predict which environmental compounds are toxic to humans. Current methods for testing compounds are cumbersome, time-consuming, costly and require the use of hundreds of animals to assess only a few compounds.

In response to the need for early identification of harmful agents and the international movement away from live animal testing, this innovation lab explores the simultaneous testing of a panel of human cells from numerous organs of the body, exposing them all at once to potentially toxic agents.


The Solution

This innovation lab will work to develop a cheaper, faster technique for toxicology testing to protect humans from the negative health effects resulting from exposure to toxic compounds.

The first step will include testing the capacity to assess biological responses across a panel of human cells that have been selected because they are common targets for cancer. The cells will be exposed to known environmental contaminants via a “Body-on-a-Chip” device to determine the feasibility of this new approach in toxicology testing.
The “Body-on-a-Chip” device is a miniaturized multi-well device that is the size of a microscope slide. It will hold numerous human cell types to be tested for their responses to various agents.
The development of this tool will benefit researchers in academia, government and industry who are in need of rapid predictive toxicology testing that does not involve the use of animals. In the long term, research findings will help to protect humans from exposure to toxic agents, and resulting detrimental health effects, such as cancer.

Rebecca Fry, PhD, is the principal investigator and an assistant professor in the department of environmental sciences and engineering in the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health.

Partners include: systems biologists, toxicologists and exposure scientists, as well as interested parties in government and industry.