September 7, 2009

Liver cells used for drug toxicity screen

Drug toxicity testing may improve because a new process helps keep cultured liver cells alive, U.S. researchers suggest.

The report, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, describes how liver cells grown in a high-oxygen environment and in a culture medium free of animal-derived serum quickly began to function as they did within the liver.

Finding a better way to culture liver cells has been a major stumbling block in the development of predictive drug-discovery tools, senior author Yaakov Nahmias of Massachusetts General Hospital says in a statement. We needed to develop an environment in which liver cells behave as they do in the body.

The researchers first confirmed serum interferes with the metabolism of cultured rat and human liver cells and then found liver cells grown with 95 percent oxygen not only quickly resumed normal metabolic activity, but also maintained a high level of metabolic activity for several weeks.

The cultured cells successfully predicted the clearance rates for both rapid- and slow-acting drugs, the researchers say.