Toxicity Studies in Organoid Models: Developing an Alternative to Animal Testing

Alternatives to animal testing have long been explored when it comes to studying the safety of various chemical compounds for use in food, medicine and cosmetics. With the advent of three-dimensional (3D) cell culture to create organoids, more relevant human organoid models are being explored as one way to provide safe and effective compound testing while minimizing the need for testing in animals. The international project Physiologically Anchored Tools for Realistic nanOmateriaL hazard aSsessment (PATROLS) led by the Swansea University Medical School aims to establish a battery of innovative, next-generation safety testing tools that can more accurately predict the effects of engineered nanomaterial (ENM) exposure in humans and the environment.

One project being researched by Samantha Llewellyn, a research assistant at Swansea University, is developing predictive physiologically relevant 3D liver models for ENM safety assessment. By having a model to evaluate realistic ENM exposures, a researcher can study liver function, hepatic metabolism and microtissue cell viability after acute (24 hours) or prolonged (several days) exposure. A microtissue model for assessing ENM hepatotoxicity needs to mimic primary hepatocytes and be amenable to assays used to test cell viability and metabolism.

The right tools for testing this 3D liver model include the bioluminescent-based CellTiter-Glo® 3D Viability and P450-Glo® Assays. When creating organoids, having reagents that can penetrate to the center of the dense and complex 3D liver spheroids is important so that the cell viability readout encompasses the entire microtissue. The CellTiter-Glo® 3D Viability Assay accomplishes this task, providing accurate assessment of 3D tissue cell health. Measuring cytochrome P450 (CYP450) activity is necessary for studying liver function. The P450-Glo® Assays have the flexibility to assess CYP450 activity while preserving the liver spheroids; thus, researchers can gather more data from a single experiment.

The importance of Samantha Llewellyn’s research as part of PATROLs is establishing a 3D liver model that could evaluate realistic ENM exposures and reduce the need for animal testing. Bioluminescent assays for assessing cell health and liver enzyme function are necessary to reach this goal.

luciferse technologies are allowing researchers to develop predictive 3D organoid models for ERM testing

To learn more about the last 30 years of bioluminescent innovations and the discoveries they’ve enabled, please visit our 30th anniversary celebration page.

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Improving SARS-CoV-2 Antibody Detection with Bioluminescence

3D artistic rendering of the Lumit SARS-CoV-2 antibody test

Science is the practice of figuring out how things work and then using that knowledge to further our understanding or to create tools that can solve problems facing the world. Bioluminescent tools and assays are examples of science doing all these things. Bioluminescence is the light-yielding (luminescence) chemical reaction that is used by many lifeforms. When fireflies flicker in the twilight, they are using bioluminescence to flash on and off.  Chemically, bioluminescence happens when an enzyme called luciferase acts on a light-emitting compound, luciferin, in the presence of adenosine triphosphate (ATP), magnesium and oxygen.

For scientists, bioluminescence can serve as a tool to help them understand many cellular functions. Since few animal or plant cells produce their own light, there is little to no background signal (light) to be concerned about. This lack of background means that all light coming from the sample can be measured. In fact, bioluminescence is often a preferred tool for scientists because it does not require an external light source or special filters, which are required for fluorescence-based technologies.

Promega scientists have developed bioluminescent tools and assays to support leading edge scientific research for decades, beginning in 1990 with the Luciferase biosensor technology based on firefly luciferase. Luciferase is a wonderful tool for studying how enzymes work because its output (light) is so easy to measure: samples are placed into a special instrument called a luminometer, and the amount of light being produced (Relative Light Units) is recorded. Bioluminescence technology can be configured to measure a variety of cellular biology, ranging from cell health to enzyme activity down to the specific event of turning a gene on or off. The advent of new techniques for genetic manipulation, along with an enhanced understanding of bioluminescence and the discovery and engineering of better luciferases, enables science to use bioluminescence in even more unique ways.

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Understanding Inflammation: A Faster, Easier Way to Detect Cytokines in Cells

Inflammation, a process that was meant to defend our body from infection, has been found to contribute to a wide range of diseases, such as chronic inflammation, neurodegenerative disorders—and more recently, COVID-19. The development of new tools and methods to measure inflammation is crucial to help researchers understand these diseases.

This diagram shows how the Lumit™ Immuno assay can be used to detect cytokines.

Cytokines—small signaling molecules that regulate inflammation and immunity—have recently become the focus of inflammation research due to their role in causing severe COVID-19 symptoms. In these severe cases, the patient’s immune system responds to the infection with uncontrolled cytokine release and immune cell activation, called the “cytokine storm”. Although the cytokine storm can be treated using established drugs, more research is needed to understand what causes this severe immune response and why only some patients develop it.

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NAD: A Renaissance Molecule and its Role in Cell Health

Promega NAD/NADH-Glo system and how to prepare samples for  identification of NAD or NADH.
Promega NAD/NADH-Glo system and how to prepare samples for identification of NAD or NADH.

NAD is a pyridine nucleotide. It provides the oxidation and reduction power for generation of ATP by mitochondria. For many years it was believed that the primary function of NAD/NADH in cells was to harness and transfer energy  from glucose, fatty and amino acids through pathways like glycolysis, beta-oxidation and the citric acid cycle.

Today, however, NAD is recognized as an important cell signaling molecule and substrate. The many regulatory pathways now known to use NAD+ in signaling include multiple aspects of cellular homeostasis, energy metabolism, lifespan regulation, apoptosis, DNA repair and telomere maintenance.

This resurrection of NAD importance is due in no small part to the discovery of NAD-using enzymes, especially the sirtuins. Continue reading “NAD: A Renaissance Molecule and its Role in Cell Health”

Measuring Changing Metabolism in Cancer Cells

Because of the central role of energy metabolism in health and disease, and its effect on other cellular processes, assays to monitor changes in cellular metabolic state have wide application in both basic research and drug discovery. In the webinar “Tools for Cell Metabolism: Bioluminescent NAD(P)/NAD(P)H-Glo™ Assays” Jolanta Vidurigiene, a Senior Research Scientist at Promega, introduces three metabolism assays for measuring oxidized and reduced forms of NAD and NADP.

In this webinar, Jolanta provides background information on why it is important to be able to accurately measure metabolites such as NAD/NADH and NADP/NADPH. She outlines the roles of each, and highlights some of the challenges involved in developing assays that can accurately measure these metabolites. She discusses key considerations for successful NAD(P)/NAD(P)H assays and provides examples of how to use these assays to measure either total (both oxidized and reduced) forms of NAD and NADP, or to measure oxidized and reduced forms individually in a single assay plate.

NAD(P)H-Glo™ Assay Mechanism
NAD(P)H-Glo™ Assay Mechanism

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HPK1 Identified as Emerging Immuno-oncology Drug Target

Antibody-based immune checkpoint inhibitors remain a major focus of immuno-oncology drug research and development efforts because of their recent success in providing long-term anti-tumor responses. However, the range of response of different tumor types to these drugs is hugely varied. Small molecule kinase inhibitors that block signaling pathways involved in regulation of tumor immunity at multiple points in the “cancer immunity cycle” may provide alternate, effective therapeutics. One kinase that may be a target for such small molecule inhibitors is Hematopoietic Progenitor Kinase 1 or HPK1; the potential of this kinase as a therapeutic target was reviewed by Sawasdikosol and Burakoff (1). HPK1, also known as MAP4K1, is a member of the MAP kinase protein kinase family that negatively regulates signal transduction in T-cells, B-cells and dendritic cells of the immune system.

Artist rendering of what target engagement might look like for kinases like HPK1.
NanoBRET™ Target Engagement Assay (artist rendering)
Continue reading “HPK1 Identified as Emerging Immuno-oncology Drug Target”

Ten Things to Know about Inducible T Cell Co-stimulators (ICOS)

The term ICOS —inducible T cell co-stimulators— has been prominent in my work as a science writer at Promega, recently. Here is a brief look at ICOS, how it works, and how it can be used in therapeutics research and development.

T cells do amazing things, like driving or blocking production of B cells and their related antibodies and antibody maturation, and they are the primary drivers of innate immunity. T cells have a variety of surface molecules, the primary and omnipresent T cell receptor (TCR), as well as CD3.

Schematic diagram of a T cell receptor TCR. The TCR interacts with ICOS in the immune response.

In the past 15 years or so, researchers have identified other, inducible receptors on T cells. These receptors appear when T cells are stimulated, enabling interactions with other cell types. The following information is summarized from a Frontiers in Immunology review by Wikenheiser et al.

What is ICOS (inducible T cell co-stimulators)?

Continue reading “Ten Things to Know about Inducible T Cell Co-stimulators (ICOS)”

Bioluminescence and Biotechnology: Shining Nature’s Cool Light on Biology

Imagine you’re taking a refreshing night swim in the warm blue waters of Vieques in Puerto Rico. You splash into the surf and head out to some of the deeper waters of the bay, when what to your wondering eyes should appear, but blue streaks of light in water that once was clear. Do you need to get your eyes checked? Are you hallucinating? No! You’ve just happened upon a cluster of dinoflagellates, harmless bioluminescent microorganisms called plankton, that emit their glow when disturbed by movement. These dinoflagellates are known to inhabit waters throughout the world but are generally not present in large enough numbers to be noticed. There are only five ecosystems in the world where these special bioluminescent bays can be seen, and three of them are in Puerto Rico. 

Bioluminescent plankton exhibit a blue glow when disturbed.
Bioluminescent plankton in the ocean

But you don’t have to travel to Puerto Rico or swim with plankton to see bioluminescence. There are bioluminescent organisms all over the world in many unexpected places. There are bioluminescent mushrooms, bioluminescent sea creatures—both large and small (squid, jellyfish, and shrimp, in addition to the dinoflagellates)—and bioluminescent insects, to name a few. Bioluminescence is simply the ability of living things to produce light.

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Just What Is an RLU (Relative Light Unit)?

This post was contributed by guest blogger, Scott Messenger, Technical Support Scientist 2 at Promega Corporation.

It’s always an exciting time in the lab when you find a new assay to answer an important research question. Once you get your hands on the assay, it is always good to confirm it will work for your experimental setup. Repeating the control experiment shown in the technical manual is a great way to test the assay in your hands.

After running that first experiment of your assay, it looks pretty good. The trends of control and treatment are consistent. Time to get on with the experiments…but wait—the RLUs (Relative Light Units) are two orders of magnitude lower than the example data! I can’t show this data to my colleagues; it doesn’t match. What did I do wrong?

This is a concern that we in Technical Services hear frequently. The concern is real, and I had this same thought when doing some of my first experiments using luminescence. When a question like this comes in, a Technical Service Scientist will make sure the experiment was performed as we described, and in most cases it is. We then start talking about RLUs (Relative Light Units).

Continue reading “Just What Is an RLU (Relative Light Unit)?”

A Closer Look at C. difficile Biology with Luminescent Tagging

Clostridium difficile is a bacterium that infects around half a million people per year in the United States. The infection causes symptoms ranging from diarrhea to severe colitis, and it’s one of the most common infections contracted while staying in the hospital. As the global incidence of C. diff infection has risen over the past decade, so has the pressure to develop novel therapeutic strategies. This requires a thorough exploration of all aspects of C. difficile biology.

Two recent papers published by researchers at the University of Leiden have shed light on C. difficile physiology using HiBiT protein tagging. The HiBiT system allows detection of proteins in live cells using an 11 amino acid tag. The HiBiT tag binds to the complementary LgBiT polypeptide to reconstitute the luminescent NanoBiT® enzyme. The resulting luminescence is proportional to the amount of HiBiT-tagged protein that is present.

Continue reading “A Closer Look at C. difficile Biology with Luminescent Tagging”