Most in vitro tests are simple 2-D models consisting of a single cell type based on well established cell lines. The human respiratory epithelium consists of a complex 3-D structure of many diverse cell types. MucilAirTM has a unique 3-D structure that closely mimics this natural structure. The epithelium lines the lungs and it serves to moisten and protect the airways. In addition, MucilAirTM comprises primary cells rather than cell lines. Cell lines consist of transformed cells that have become immortalised. This means that they have acquired the ability to grow indefinitely. By contrast primary cells are cultured directly from a tissue and have a limited life span. MucilAirTM has the unique characteristic of having a shelf life of more than a year, allowing long-term and repeated testing. The longevity of the MucilAirTM system enables the development and testing of environmental chemicals and pharmaceutical therapies at different stages of lung disease, including carcinogenesis.
The purpose of this project is to develop a unique 3-D in vitro test based on lung tissue that can be used to test the biological effect of tobacco smoke on the human airway. In the future, the same test may be used to test prototype tobacco products designed to be reduced risk. This is a new area of work and a major advancement in in vitro culture. The first step of this project will be a feasibility study to determine whether the technology is fit for purpose.
‘The tissue model from Epithelix is unique’, says Dr. Klaus R. Schröder, CEO of BioMed zet Life Science GmbH. ‘It is the first tissue model worldwide to be kept alive for longer than one year in a laboratory and is appropriate for studying cancer mechanisms. We hope, in the future, these models will provide alternatives for existing animal experiments in cancer research, that are extremely time consuming and expensive. Our system will shorten the time until results are obtained and cut costs substantially. Once the system is established it will allow testing of pharmaceutical anti-cancer drugs in vitro. It offers the opportunity to study molecular cancer mechanisms without animal experiments.’ ‘This collaboration is an exciting step in the further development of in vitro models of disease that may help provide a further understanding of the mechanisms involved during the development of cancer, and in the future may provide part of the means of assessing tobacco products aimed at being less risky’, says Dr Christopher Proctor, Chief Scientific Officer, British American Tobacco.