Nanosensors can free science from animal experiments

Pictorial representation onlyScientists still continue with animal experiments and vivisection, described as barbaric, but now German researchers have found an alternative - in nanosensors - that could reduce the number of animal experiments.

Countless mice, rats and rabbits die every year in the name of science - and the situation is getting worse. While German labs used some 2.41 million animals for scientific research in 2005, by 2009 this number had grown to 2.79 million.

One-third were destined for fundamental biology research, and the majority were used for researching diseases and developing medical compounds and devices, according to a statement from Fraunhofer Research Institution for Modular Solid State Technologies,
But now, scientists at the institute have discovered an alternative.

"We’re basically using a test tube to study the effects of chemicals and their potential risks. What we do is take living cells, which were isolated from human and animal tissue and grown in cell cultures, and expose them to the substance under investigation,” says Jennifer Schmidt of Fraunhofer.

If a given concentration of the substance is poisonous to the cell, it will die. This change in “well-being” can be rendered visible by the sensor nanoparticles developed by Schmidt and her team.

Cells - the tiniest living things - that are healthy store energy in the form of adenosine triphosphate (ATP). High levels of ATP are indicative of high levels of metabolic activity in cells. If a cell is severely damaged, it produces less ATP.

“Our nanosensors allow us to detect adenosine triphosphate and determine the state of health of cells. This makes it possible to assess the cell-damaging effects of medical compounds or chemicals,” says Schmidt.

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