£4m dedicated to advancing the development and application of non-animal technologies, such as bioprinting human tissue

Fifteen business collaborations, carrying out early-stage investigations into the feasibility of novel non-animal technologies, have received support from five key funding bodies, including the NC3Rs

The development of non-animal technologies is vital in the search for alternatives that can replace the use of animals in scientific research. Fifteen feasibility studies, carried out by collaborations between companies and academia, will look at a range of non-animal technologies.  

The technologies capitalise upon recent advances in the biosciences and engineering including; induced pluripotent stem cells, tissue engineering technologies, high-throughput platforms, computational modelling, novel imaging techniques and bioprinting technologies.  

The NC3Rs, the UK’s innovation agency the Technology Strategy Board, the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council have joined forces to fund the business-led projects, which have the potential to change both the drug development and chemical testing landscape.  

The funding enables project participants to explore the commercial feasibility of developing non-animal technologies and to test systems that have better predictive capacity and are more reflective of human responses to, and the environmental effects of, chemicals and pharmaceuticals.

Two of the projects are investigating the exciting potential applications of 3D printing for biological purposes. Renishaw PLC and collaborators have received funding to develop the first commercial stem cell bioprinter. They will test the bioprinter by producing human heart tissues. Bioprinted tissues could be used to facilitate high throughput drug screening without the need for animal tissues.

Avanticell Science Limited and their collaborators go a step further, attempting to automate the production of bioprinted cell-based analysis models, by additive printing of both the cells and their supporting structures. Increasing the reproducibility of these models will improve end-user uptake and maximise the screening efficiencies offered by this technology. This advance has the potential to reduce new drug development costs and shorten development time.  

Commenting on the awards, Dr Vicky Robinson, Chief Executive of the NC3Rs, said:  

"Non-animal technologies are at the cutting-edge of scientific development. The projects we have funded have the potential, not only to produce effective alternatives to animal models, but to actually improve upon the science. The intention is that the new technologies will be even better at predicting human response and more applicable to human disease than the animal models currently used.” 

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