Adoption of In Vitro Systems and Zebrafish Embryos as Alternative Models for Reducing Rodent Use in Assessments of Immunological and Oxidative Stress Responses to Nanomaterials


Helinor J. Johnston, Rachel Verdon, Suzanne Gillies, David M. Brown, Teresa F. Fernandes, Theodore B. Henry, Adriano G. Rossi, Lang Tran, Carl Tucker, Charles R. Tyler, Vicki Stone


Assessing the safety of engineered nanomaterials (NMs) is paramount to the responsible and sustainable development of nanotechnology, which provides huge societal benefits. Currently, there is no evidence that engineered NMs cause detrimental health effects in humans. However, investigation of NM toxicity using in vivo, in vitro, in chemico, and in silico models has demonstrated that some NMs stimulate oxidative stress and inflammation, which may lead to adverse health effects. Accordingly, investigation of these responses currently dominates NM safety assessments. There is a need to reduce reliance on rodent testing in nanotoxicology for ethical, financial and legislative reasons, and due to evidence that rodent models do not always predict the human response. We advocate that in vitro models and zebrafish embryos should have greater prominence in screening for NM safety, to better align nanotoxicology with the 3Rs principles. Zebrafish are accepted for use by regulatory agencies in chemical safety assessments (e.g. developmental biology) and there is growing acceptance of their use in biomedical research, providing strong foundations for their use in nanotoxicology. We suggest that investigation of the response of phagocytic cells (e.g. neutrophils, macrophages) in vitro should also form a key part of NM safety assessments, due to their prominent role in the first line of defense. The development of a tiered testing strategy for NM hazard assessment that promotes the more widespread adoption of non-rodent, alternative models and focuses on investigation of inflammation and oxidative stress could make nanotoxicology testing more ethical, relevant, and cost and time efficient.

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Johnston HJ, Verdon R, Gillies S, Brown DM, Fernandes TF, Henry TB, Rossi AG, Tran L, Tucker C, Tyler CR, Stone V. 2018. Adoption of in vitro systems and zebrafish embryos as alternative models for reducing rodent use in assessments of immunological and oxidative stress responses to nanomaterials. Critical Reviews in Toxicology 48:252-271.