In the project the following centers experienced in alternative toxicity testing take part – NIOM – Coordinator (Poland), VUB (Belgium), NILU (Norway) and UMIL (Italy).
The research group IVTD, chaired by Prof. Vera Rogiers until October 2017 and now chaired by Prof. Tamara Vanhaecke, belongs to the Department of Pharmaceutical and Pharmacological Sciences (FARM) of the Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB). The IVTD team currently hosts 37 members: – 2 full time and 2 part-time professors (ZAP) – 2 tenure track professors (100% appointed as ZAP) – 1 senior researcher with a part time (10%) ZAP position (post-doc) – 2 full time senior researchers (post-docs) – 1 full time business developer – 14 junior researchers (PhD students) – 2 half-time scientific collaborators – 6 full-time-equivalent technicians – 3 administrative staff – 2 teaching assistants IVTD staff members have teaching duties in the bachelor and master years of Pharmaceutical Sciences and take care of the practical courses in toxicology, pharmaceutical technology, dermatocosmetology and pharmacognosy.
For more than 30 years, IVTD has built up a solid international research reputation in its major research field i.e. “In vitro Experimental Toxicology”. Together, the IVTD team strives to develop functional liver-based in vitro models to enable more accurate prediction of the hepatotoxic potential of new drug candidates and alike. As such, both (i) metabolically competent primary hepatocyte cultures as well as (ii) stem/progenitor cell-based in vitro hepatic models are being developed. Additionally, new drug targets and cell therapy options for the treatment of acute and chronic liver diseases are investigated e.g. our research concerned with connexins and hemichannels that was funded by an ERC starting grant. Within the field of 3R alternatives, IVTD also acts at the foreground of the international Adverse Outcome Pathway (AOP) research niche. IVTD has proven expertise in regulatory aspects and risk assessment of cosmetics and their ingredients.
Currently, two IVTD professors are appointed members in the EU Scientific Committee on Consumers Safety (SCCS), and the SCCS Working group on Methodology is chaired by the former Head of IVTD. The IVTD group has also an excellent track record with respect to the participation and management of both national and international (EU) funded research projects. Of particular relevance for the TWINALT project is IVTDs expertise in the field of liver-based in vitro models, toxicogenomics and (geno)toxicity. Indeed, during the last 10 years, experience in the field of genotoxicity has been build up via participation to the EU FP6 carcinoGENOMICS project and extensive collaboration with Sciensano (former Wetenschappelijk Instituut Vlaanderen (WiV-ISP)).
In this context, and particularly oriented towards the regulatory needs of the cosmetic industry for more accurate in vitro genotoxicity hazard assessment, emphasis is put on using gene expression analysis via transcriptomics and microarray technology to generate more complete mechanistic information as a way to de-risk false positive Ames and/or in vitro micronucleus tests. Also of relevance for the TWINALT project are IVTD’s postnatal human skin stem cell-derived hepatic cells representing a new cell model for alternative method development. IVTD’s researchers were among the first to report on the accurate prediction of hepatotoxicity in response to reference pharmaceuticals using a combination of these human stem cell-derived hepatic cells and omics technology (internationally awarded in 2014).
While IVTD has clear strength in both publication record and national and international funding, the team has been building its valorisation portfolio in recent years. The in vitro technologies developed at IVTD have been the subject of 3 granted patent applications (PCT/EP2004/0012134, PCT/EP2007/055754 & PCT/EP2008/056706). The team is currently engaged in multiple valorisation avenues covering their various in vitro projects: a research collaboration with the biotechnology company Galapagos, supported by a Belgian national grant (VLAIO); exploring the industry readiness of the stem cell hepatic model with a Proof of Concept grant (IOF); and is exploring the possibility of industry applications, under service agreements or material transfer agreements, with e.g. Eppendorf, Janssen Pharmaceutica, Galapagos, Bayer Crop Sciences, Wepredic (former Biopredic International) and CellSine.