The International Foundation for Ethical Research
About IFER
Scientific Advisory Board
News & Announcements
Support IFER
Accepting the challenge to advance more humane science

Georgina Harris, a Ph.D. student working with Dr. Lena Smirnova and Dr. Thomas Hartung at the Center for Alternatives to Animal Testing at Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health, is currently the recipient of a Special Merit Award from the International Foundation for Ethical Research (IFER). She was also an IFER Graduate Fellowship recipient from 2013-2016 and received support for her project, “Identification of pathways of developmental neurotoxicity (DNT) of environmental chemicals by -omics technologies.” Georgina’s project aims to establish methods for assessing developmental neurotoxicity in vitro using human cells. As current strategies to evaluate DNT rely heavily on animal models which lack human-relevance, raise ethical concerns and are expensive, Georgina’s work has the potential to revolutionize DNT studies while reducing the use of animals in this area.


Sex Differences in Liver Toxicity - Do Female and Male Human Primary Hepatocytes React Differently to Toxicants In Vitro?

M. Mennecozzi, B. Landesmann, T. Palosaari, G. Harris, M. Whelan

PLOS ONE (2015)

There is increasing amount of evidence for sex variation in drug efficiency and toxicity profiles. Women are more susceptible than men to acute liver injury from xenobiotics. In general, this is attributed to sex differences at a physiological level as well as differences in pharmacokinetics and pharmacodynamics, but neither of these can give a sufficient explanation for the diverse responses to xenobiotics. Existing data are mainly based on animal models and limited data exist on in vitro sex differences relevant to humans. To date, male and female human hepatocytes have not yet been compared in terms of their responses to hepatotoxic drugs. We investigated whether sex-specific differences in acute hepatotoxicity can be observed in vitro by comparing hepatotoxic drug effects in male and female primary human hepatocytes. Significant sex-related differences were found for certain parameters and individual drugs, showing an overall higher sensitivity of female primary hepatocytes to hepatotoxicants. Moreover, our work demonstrated that high content screening is feasible with pooled primary human hepatocytes in suspension.

Genomic and Phenotypic Alterations of the Neuronal-Like Cells Derived from Human Embryonal Carcinoma Stem Cells (NT2) Caused by Exposure to Organophosphorus Compounds Paraoxon and Mipafox

D. Pamies, M.A. Sogorb, M. Fabbri, L. Gribaldo, A. Collotta, B. Scelfo, E. Vilanova,
G. Harris, A. Bal-Price

International Journal of Molecular Sciences (2014)

Historically, only few chemicals have been identified as neurodevelopmental toxicants, however, concern remains, and has recently increased, based upon the association between chemical exposures and increased developmental disorders. Diminution in motor speed and latency has been reported in preschool children from agricultural communities. Organophosphorus compounds (OPs) are pesticides due to their acute insecticidal effects mediated by the inhibition of acetylcholinesterase, although other esterases as neuropathy target esterase (NTE) can also be inhibited. Other neurological and neurodevelopmental toxic effects with unknown targets have been reported after chronic exposure to OPs in vivo. We studied the initial stages of retinoic acid acid-triggered differentiation of pluripotent cells towards neural progenitors derived from human embryonal carcinoma stem cells to determine if neuropathic OP, mipafox, and non-neuropathic OP, paraoxon, are able to alter differentiation of neural precursor cells in vitro. Exposure to 1 µM paraoxon (non-cytotoxic concentrations) altered the expression of different genes involved in signaling pathways related to chromatin assembly and nucleosome integrity. Conversely, exposure to 5 µM mipafox, a known inhibitor of NTE activity, showed no significant changes on gene expression. We conclude that 1 µM paraoxon could affect the initial stage of in vitro neurodifferentiation possibly due to a teratogenic effect, while the absence of transcriptional alterations by mipafox exposure did not allow us to conclude a possible effect on neurodifferentiation pathways at the tested concentration.

Building Shared Experience to Advance Practical Application of Pathway-Based Toxicology: Liver Toxicity Mode-of-Action

C. Willett, J. Caverly Ray, K.O. Goyak, G. Minsavage, C. Westmoreland, M. Andersen, M. Avigan, D. Duché, G. Harris, T. Hartung, H. Jaeschke, A. Kleensang,
A. Landesmann, S. Martos, M. Matevia, C. Toole, A. Rowan, T. Schultz, J. Seed, J. Senior, I. Shah, K. Subramanian, M. Vinken and P. Watkins

ALTEX (2014)

A workshop sponsored by the Human Toxicology Project Consortium (HTPC), “Building Shared Experience to Advance Practical Application of Pathway-Based Toxicology: Liver Toxicity Mode-of-Action” brought together experts from a wide range of perspectives to inform the process of pathway development and to advance two prototype pathways initially developed by the European Commission Joint Research Center (JRC): liver-specific fibrosis and steatosis. The first half of the workshop focused on the theory and practice of pathway development; the second on liver disease and the two prototype pathways. Participants agreed pathway development is extremely useful for organizing information and found that focusing the theoretical discussion on a specific AOP is helpful. It is important to include several perspectives during pathway development, including information specialists, pathologists, human health and environmental risk assessors, and chemical and product manufacturers, to ensure the biology is well captured and end use is considered.

Consensus Report on the Future of Animal-Free Systemic Toxicity Testing

M. Leist, N. Hasiwa, C. Rovida, M. Daneshian, D. Basketter, I. Kimber, H. Clewell,
T. Gocht, A. Goldberg, F. Busquet, A.M. Rossi, M. Schwarz, M. Stephens, R. Taalman, T.B. Knudsen, J. McKim, G. Harris, D. Pamies and T. Hartung T

ALTEX (2014)

Since March 2013, animal use for cosmetics testing for the European market has been banned. This requires a renewed view on risk assessment in this field. However, in other fields as well, traditional animal experimentation does not always satisfy requirements in safety testing, as the need for human-relevant information is ever increasing. A general strategy for animal-free test approaches was outlined by the US National Research Council`s vision document for Toxicity Testing in the 21st Century in 2007. It is now possible to provide a more defined roadmap on how to implement this vision for the four principal areas of systemic toxicity evaluation: repeat dose organ toxicity, carcinogenicity, reproductive toxicity and allergy induction (skin sensitization), as well as for the evaluation of toxicant metabolism (toxicokinetics). CAAT-Europe assembled experts from Europe, America and Asia to design a scientific roadmap for future risk assessment approaches and the outcome was then further discussed and refined in two consensus meetings with over 200 stakeholders. The key recommendations include: focusing on improving existing methods rather than favoring de novo design; combining hazard testing with toxicokinetics predictions; developing integrated test strategies; incorporating new high content endpoints to classical assays; evolving test validation procedures; promoting collaboration and data-sharing of different industrial sectors; integrating new disciplines, such as systems biology and high throughput screening; and involving regulators early on in the test development process. A focus on data quality, combined with increased attention to the scientific background of a test method, will be important drivers. Information from each test system should be mapped along adverse outcome pathways. Finally, quantitative information on all factors and key events will be fed into systems biology models that allow a probabilistic risk assessment with flexible adaptation to exposure scenarios and individual risk factors.

Toward a 3D Model of Human Brain Development for Studying Gene/Environment Interactions

H.T. Hogberg, J. Bressler, K.M. Christian, G. Harris, G Makri, C. O’Driscoll, D. Pamies, L. Smirnova, Z. Wen and T. Hartung

Stem Cell Research & Therapy (2013)

This project aims to establish and characterize an in vitro model of the developing human brain for the purpose of testing drugs and chemicals. To accurately assess risk, a model needs to recapitulate the complex interactions between different types of glial cells and neurons in a three-dimensional platform. Moreover, human cells are preferred over cells from rodents to eliminate cross-species differences in sensitivity to chemicals. Previously, we established conditions to culture rat primary cells as three-dimensional aggregates, which will be humanized and evaluated here with induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs). The use of iPSCs allows us to address gene/environment interactions as well as the potential of chemicals to interfere with epigenetic mechanisms. Additionally, iPSCs afford us the opportunity to study the effect of chemicals during very early stages of brain development. It is well recognized that assays for testing toxicity in the developing brain must consider differences in sensitivity and susceptibility that arise depending on the time of exposure. This model will reflect critical developmental processes such as proliferation, differentiation, lineage specification, migration, axonal growth, dendritic arborization and synaptogenesis, which will probably display differences in sensitivity to different types of chemicals. Functional endpoints will evaluate the complex cell-to-cell interactions that are affected in neurodevelopment through chemical perturbation, and the efficacy of drug intervention to prevent or reverse phenotypes. The model described is designed to assess developmental neurotoxicity effects on unique processes occurring during human brain development by leveraging human iPSCs from diverse genetic backgrounds, which can be differentiated into different cell types of the central nervous system. Our goal is to demonstrate the feasibility of the personalized model using iPSCs derived from individuals with neurodevelopmental disorders caused by known mutations and chromosomal aberrations. Notably, such a human brain model will be a versatile tool for more complex testing platforms and strategies as well as research into central nervous system physiology and pathology.

Announcement of Available Fellowships
Fellowship Application
Current Recipients
Past Award Recipients