Qlucore Omics Explorer Helps Researchers to Find Alternatives to Animal Testing for Allergen Studies

Qlucore, a world leader in the development of bioinformatics software, has today confirmed that researchers at Lund University in Sweden are using Qlucore’s advanced data analysis software to conduct important new gene expression studies related to the prediction of sensitisation. Their innovative research will help to support Sens-it-iv, a large EU-funded research project that aims to develop and optimise in vitro test strategies that could reduce or replace animal testing for sensitisation studies. A procedure performed in vitro is performed not in a living organism, but in a controlled clinical environment instead.

The aim of the Sens-it-iv project is to develop in vitro alternatives to animal tests currently used for the risk assessment of potential skin or lung sensitisers, as there are not yet any in vitro tests or test strategies available to test chemical compounds for their potential to induce hypersensitivity reactions. As a result, in industries such as cosmetics animal testing has traditionally been used to address the risk of producing products that contain skin (contact) sensitisers. In the UK, just under 3.7 million animal experiments were started in 2008, a rise of nearly 15% from the year before, according to recent Home Office statistics.

“Worldwide, more and more people are suffering from hypersensitivity reactions, such as allergies, which means that this area has become an important health concern,” says Professor Carl Borrebaeck, department of immunotechnology, Lund University. “As a scientist, I am interested to find out why otherwise harmless compounds can often elicit an adverse immune response in humans, and gene expression studies could provide us with some important insights in this area, whilst also providing a viable alternative to animal testing.”

Adverse reactions to sensitising agents are steadily increasing, and much of the risk assessment for potential skin or lung-sensitisers still depends on animal testing. The overall objective of Sens-it-iv is to produce in vitro alternatives for these assays and develop them up to the level of pre-validation. Besides reducing animal experimentation, an increase in the accuracy of predicting sensitising potencies is also expected.

To achieve this goal, the Sens-it-iv project will consider the impact of various compounds on cellular-molecular interactions, which play a central role in the development and elicitation of many allergies. Professor Borrebaeck, a sub-coordinator of Sens-it-iv, and Dr Ann-Sofie Albrekt are both using Qlucore Omics Explorer in order to get maximum value out of the data being produced by research in this area.

Gene expression studies like these are proving invaluable to the study of allergens, but the amount of data that is produced by these experiments is enormous. As a result, it is impossible to derive any real biological meaning from these findings unless sophisticated data algorithms are used to help interpret this data effectively. This is a new challenge compared with just ten years ago, when researchers were only able to work with analysis methods that provided information about single genes.

As a result of this change, most of the software that has been designed for use with gene expression experiments has mainly focused on the ability to handle increasingly vast amounts of data, which means that the role of the scientist/researcher has been largely set aside. The research being conducted at Lund University’s department of immunotechnology, however, represents a significant breakthrough in this regard, as Qlucore Omics Explorer is now being used to transform high-dimensional data down to lower dimensions and apply powerful statistical methods, which can then be plotted in three-dimensions on a computer screen and rotated, so that results can be examined and analysed by the naked eye.

With this approach, the view of the data can be changed in an instant, so that researchers studying the impact of various compounds on cellular-molecular interactions are only looking at the specific sub-group that interests them at any given moment. In addition, it is very easy to add and/or remove data as necessary, without having to start from the beginning and re-analyse the entire data set.

“I feel confident that the research we are conducting for Sens-it-iv will contribute to the reduction in the number of animals required for safety testing and the establishment of more accurate tools for product development,” says Dr Ann-Sofie Albrekt. “Not only will this project will be of substantial benefit to the study of allergens, but the possibility of finding alternatives to animal testing also motivates us to make new discoveries in this area.”

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