BIOENGINEERING: Scientists Grow Corneas, May Eliminate Animal Testing
For the first time, scientists have grown "nearly complete" human corneas in a laboratory -- creating a possible alternative to using animals in toxic product safety testing, the Los Angeles Times reports. Collaborating Canadian and U.S. scientists said that the "bioengineered tissue has many key properties of a real human cornea." Receiving $300,000 in partial funding from Procter & Gamble, lead scientist May Griffith and her Ottawa Eye Institute research team used "three separate cell lines" -- each derived from discarded cadaver corneas -- to grow tissue that "conducted impulses like intact tissue, showed irritation when exposed to detergent" and was clear. Although further study is necessary prior to using the experimental tissue in product tests or human cornea transplants, the breakthrough provides hope and relief for animal rights activists. The scarcity of cadaver corneas often leads to the use of animals in household chemical and cleaning product toxicity testing. Procter & Gamble toxicology specialist and study co-author Rosemarie Osborne said, "This is one step in developing valid, useful, non-animal test methods to protect the safety of consumers." Calling the finding "exciting," People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals Vice President Mary Beth Sweetland noted, "With every little step Procter & Gamble takes ... we say 'Way to go'" (Monmaney, 12/10). Eye doctors also welcomed the discovery as a potential new source of tissue for the more than 40,000 cornea transplants occurring each year (AP/Richmond Times-Dispatch, 12/10). Noting that the "cornea equivalent" currently is not strong enough to be transplanted, Griffith said the tissue is "a good break for people looking for alternatives to animal testing" (Los Angeles Times, 12/10).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.