21. March 2023 | Press releases:

Chip platform for cell-based test systems Joint project works on complex animal experiment replacement systems for fundamental research

Test systems based on cell cultures and artificial tissues as animal test replacement methods are an increasingly important component in research. They follow the so-called 3R approach (Replace, Reduce, Refine). Around 3.6 million euros from the funding programme “Spitzenforschung für Niedersachsen“ (Top-Level Research for Lower Saxony) are flowing into the development of alternative methods that are intended to reduce the need for animal experiments, especially in fundamental research on the intestine and respiratory tract. Researchers from Technische Universität Braunschweig and the University of Veterinary Medicine Hannover are working together under the leadership of the Hanover Medical School (MHH).

In Lower Saxony, structures have been built up in recent years in which scientific working groups have looked at ways to replace and reduce the use of laboratory animals in research. In particular, joint funding (“R2N – Replace and Reduce from Lower Saxony”) has initiated the development of alternative systems for animal model-based research. Complementary groups have emerged from this consortium which, together with some new partners in the network, want to advance alternative models for fundamental research on the digestive tract (intestine, oral mucosa) and respiratory tract. Thus, the primary aim of the joint project is to implement the “replace” idea. The use of humanised systems should also ensure optimal transferability of the results to clinical and commercial use.

The aim is to produce complex microphysiological systems. These should be suitable for investigating complex questions from fundamental research. The focus is on applications in the field of infection biology and inflammation research.

Many years of experience with alternative methods at TU Braunschweig

The teams led by Professor Andreas Dietzel and Professor Stephan Reichl are developing a chip platform with integrated sensor technology for dynamised 3D cell culture models of the intestinal tract and the respiratory tract. This means they are producing the microfluidic chip systems (organ-on-chip) that the colleagues in Hanover will use to cultivate and test their cell culture systems in. Within the collaborative project, Professor Stefan Dübel’s working group produces antibodies without animal testing, which in turn are used by working groups in Hanover for immunohistological analysis.

All three working groups involved of TU Braunschweig have many years of experience in researching alternative methods to animal testing. Professor Reichl has been researching 3D cell culture models of epithelial and endothelial barriers as in vitro models for drug testing for many years. Together with Professor Dietzel, he has transferred these models to microfluidic chips. Within the Center of Pharmaceutical Engineering (PVZ), the two jointly head the Department of Microsystems and Micro Analytics, where they conduct research on organ-on-chip systems. Professor Dübel’s expertise lies in the field of “antibody engineering”.

About the funding

59.2 million euros from the Volkswagen Foundation’s “Top-level research for Lower Saxony” funding programme will flow into new and ongoing projects, around 25.6 million euros of which will go to the “Forschungsverbünde und –schwerpunkte“ (Research Networks and Priority Areas) funding line. This includes the joint project for “Forschung zum Ersatz von Tierversuchen“ (Research to replace animal experiments). The spokesperson for the project is Professor André Bleich, Animal Welfare Officer of the MHH from the Institute of Laboratory Animal Science and Central Animal Laboratory. It comprises twelve sub-projects and will be carried out over 36 months.

On the part of TU Braunschweig, as project leaders Professor Dr. Stephan Reichl, Institute of Pharmaceutical Technology, and Professor Dr. Andreas Dietzel, Institute of Microtechnology, work together in the Center of Pharmaceutical Engineering (PVZ) as well as Professor Dr. Stefan Dübel, Institute of Biochemistry, Biotechnology and Bioinformatics, Department of Biotechnology, in this joint project.