BY KATIE - MYGREENPOD, 21 November '15

Lush ‘breakthrough’ prize honours scientists helping to stop animal testing

Judges of the Lush Prize, now in its fourth year, have decided to make a special breakthrough award of £250,000 to scientists involved in mapping the world’s first ‘human toxicity pathway’.

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The breakthrough

Using 21st-century technologies like genetics and computing, scientists have now fully explained, at a molecular level, how a toxic chemical can enter the human body and lead to a recurring allergic skin reaction.
 
The judges believe that mapping this pathway represents a breakthrough moment, marking the first step into a future where a superior molecular science replaces the old, imprecise, technology of testing on live mammals in laboratories.

Decades of research

Although the ‘skin sensitisation pathway’ has come about through the work of many people over more than two decades, the judges have decided to split the award.

£100,000 has been shared between four individuals who have made key contributions to building the map in the past.

The winners

The four winners below were announced at the 2015 Lush Prize Awards in London yesterday (20 November).

David Basketter

David is a UK-based researcher who has published over 300 papers on skin sensitisation, bridging the gap between industry and academic research.

In particular, David has focused on trying to predict whether chemicals will cause allergy from their molecular structure. He has also chaired important European groups focused on non-animal tests.

Frank Gerberick

Dr Gerberick’s primary research focus has been in the field of skin allergy. Alongside over 170 publications on this subject, Frank has also co-authored the book Toxicology of Contact Dermatitis.

His laboratory in the USA has developed one of the first widely used non-animal test (the DPRA) to predict toxicity at the first stage in the skin sensitisation pathway.

Andreas Natsch

Andreas Natsch and his colleague Roger Emter have led the development of the second non-animal test to reliably predict toxicity within the skin sensitisation pathway.

Their ‘KeratinoSens’ method, developed in Switzerland, uses a human cell line in a test tube and looks for a particular type of gene signalling.

Terry Schultz

Terry is emeritus professor at the University of Tennessee, where he directed the Biological Activity Testing and Modelling Laboratory.

His focus has been the non-animal testing of chemicals for toxicity and building computer databases of results to help predict outcomes.

He played a key role in mapping the whole pathway in the two 2012 OECD research papers ‘The Adverse Outcome Pathway for Skin Sensitisation Initiated by Covalent Binding to Proteins.’

Energising award

In addition to the awards given to the four individuals above, a £150,000 ‘energising’ award has gone to the OECD’s Adverse Outcome Pathway programme, which will work on ‘adverse outcome pathways’ in the future.

The programme, directed by Bob Diderich, oversees a range of activities, including the identification of new non-animal test methods that could become international ‘Test Guidelines’.

The programme also manages an ‘AOP Knowledge Base’ – a web-based platform to bring together all knowledge on how chemicals can induce adverse effects.

‘The judges are excited to be making Lush Prize’s first breakthrough award in only its fourth year. Identifying just a few key people to receive this award amongst the many involved in a genuine global collaboration on skin sensitisation has been very difficult.

‘Although winners include people working inside some very big and complex organisations including the OECD and Proctor and Gamble, we are committed to rewarding excellence wherever we find it, and are convinced that a pathway-based approach to understanding toxic effects marks a key step on the way to a future of completely animal-free toxicity testing.’

Rob Harrison, a Lush Prize Director

A ‘Black Box’

Lush calls this breakthrough award its ‘Black Box’ Prize because it allows people to understand toxicity happening inside the cells of human organisms for the first time.

Testing chemicals on animals is a ‘black box’ because, although it tells you that so many grams of a poison will kill or damage a creature of a certain weight, it cannot explain why.

The Lush Prize recognises outstanding projects around the world that are contributing to animal-free laboratory science. Click here to find out more.