Human skin cells used in animal-free
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[June 24, 2016]
By Matthew Stock
A UK-based laboratory is working to
eradicate animal testing in the cosmetics industry by developing
alternative methods which are not only cruelty-free but more
scientifically advanced than other current tests.
XCellR8 uses scaffolds of cells from human skin donated by plastic
surgery patients, which they say are ideally suited to testing
"For skin irritation testing the cells are isolated from human skin
that has been donated by people who have had plastic surgery and
they've said that they're quite happy for the tissue to be used for
research purposes. So human skins cells are isolated from those skin
samples and they're grown in the laboratory," explained XCellR8
founder Dr. Carol Treasure.
Skin cells are the first cells to be exposed to cosmetics and can
provide a model for damage to other sites of the body. Many cosmetic
ingredients are absorbed into the bloodstream, passing then to the
organs, so it is vital any harmful effects are assessed. Treasure
said their methods provide a test bed to accurately determine any
"What you end up with is an artificial piece of skin in the
laboratory where if you cut a cross section through it is almost
identical to real skin on the body. It even has a skin barrier so
you can apply full cosmetic formulations to the surface. And what we
do is then incubate those skin models with samples of cosmetic
products or ingredients and then we can look at how much damage is
being done to the skin over a period of time," Treasure told
A number of cosmetic companies have sent their ingredients to
XCellR8 to test at their lab in Cheshire, north-west England,
including ethical cosmetics company Lush.
Other versions of a human cell-based alternative to the traditional
animal tests have been available for some years. But Treasure said
the standard methods still use animal components, such as rat liver
extract and bovine and horse serum.
"In many cases the culture of human cells still requires the use of
animal components such as blood-derived components or liver extract
which mean that ultimately animals have still been sacrificed for
that work. One of the unique things about XCellR8 is that we've
eradicated all of those components and so we have a truly animal
free testing laboratory," Treasure told Reuters.
For the industry-standard human skin sensitivity test, XCellR8 has
replaced the bovine serum normally used with a human serum, and have
shown that the test still works to an equivalent standard for
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They've also adapted a test that evaluates if an ingredient is
genotoxic - destructive to a cell's genetic material - which
replaces horse serum and rat liver extract with human serum and
human liver extract. This test does not yet have full regulatory
approval - a process that takes many years to achieve - but it
provides extremely useful data to cosmetic companies and ingredient
suppliers, helping them to develop safer products.
XCellR8 was one of the first winners of the Lush Prize - an annual
£250,000 (approx. 365,000 USD) prize fund awarding those making
significant contributions to removing animals from testing.
Dr Katy Taylor, Director of Science at Cruelty Free International,
said the ongoing research at XCellR8 could make animal testing in
the cosmetic industry completely redundant.
"XCellR8 are pioneers in providing humane testing solutions. They
are leading the way in ensuring more and more new test methods that
are completely cruelty free are available to ethical companies,"
The European Union banned animal-tested ingredients for the
cosmetics industry in 2013.
However, animal testing is legal in more than 80 percent of the
world, including the United States. But China is the only country
that has mandatory laws requiring cosmetic products be tested on
animals before they come to market, according to animal protection
campaigner Cruelty Free International.
Regulations require all cosmetics to go through a lengthy approval
process that includes animal testing, reducing the variety of
products available for sale.
XCellR8 is now working to convince governments around the world that
their research delivers a viable human-based approach to cosmetic
testing. According to Treasure, their methods provide a much more
scientific approach than the current animal tests.
"Our goal now is to increase the applicability of these tests around
the world and to work alongside governments and industry to help
them to understand that these tests provide a scientific
advancement; that they are actually better at predicting human
safety compared with traditional animal tests," she said.
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