Animal research continues to be a controversial topic in medical research. In Germany alone, about 2.79 million animals were used for scientific research in 2009, according to a Fraunhofer press release. A new technique developed at the Fraunhofer Research Institution for Modular Solid State Technologies EMFT in Munich could help reduce the number of animal experiments. The technique uses nanosensors to detect cell damage on patches of human skin, according to the press release.
Researchers use cells from donated foreskin to grow the skin patches, according to a Daily Mail article. The skin needs to be from boys less than four years old, because older skin doesn’t perform as well. A single foreskin can reportedly produce up to 10 million cells. After the patches have grown for a few weeks, researchers introduce colored nanoparticles to the cells, according to the Fraunhofer press release. The nanoparticles are colored with fluorescent dyes: a green indicator dye that is sensitive to adenosine triphosphate (ATP) and a red reference dye that does not change color.
Healthy cells store energy in the form of ATP. High levels of ATP indicate high levels of metabolic activity. Damaged cells become less active and therefore produce less ATP. Researchers expose the cells to a substance and observe their reaction under a fluorescence microscope. So far, the nanosensors can determine concentrations of oxygen and toxic amines. The technique needs approval by various official bodies before it can be used commercially.Camilla Andersson