Computational alternatives to animal testing

The use of animals in testing cosmetic ingredients is prohibited under European legislation. Methods created by researchers at LJMU enable the cosmetics industry in Europe and worldwide to continue to ensure the safety of new cosmetics ingredients without the use of animals.

The cosmetics industry in Europe is worth an estimated €70 billion per annum. Traditionally the safety of a cosmetic ingredient was assessed using information from a series of animal tests. However, the dependence on the use of animals to test product toxicity was severely challenged by the EU Cosmetics Directive adopted in 2003. The final phase of the Directive came into force in 2013, completely banning the marketing of any cosmetic product containing an ingredient tested after 2013. As a result, the cosmetics industry requires novel solutions, some of which are being provided by LJMU, to ensure new products are safe for human use.

A fundamental principle of toxicology is that a hazard is dependent on the amount of exposure, or the concentration of an ingredient in a product. If exposure is below a nominally “safe” level, then it may be assumed not to cause harm. Findings from researchers from LJMU are currently being used to inform thinking and policy in Europe regarding the updating of a new approach to risk assessment, making it more applicable to ingredients in cosmetics. This is called the “Threshold of Toxicological Concern” or “TTC”, which has previously been used for chemicals and food. LJMU is enriching the data to make it relevant to cosmetics and this is now being considered by major scientific committees on consumer safety and health risks.

University researchers have worked closely with industry since the early 1990s and particularly during the period leading to full implementation of the EU Directive. Significantly, the comprehensive databases and computational models that have been developed are freely available, curated resources for public use, but which are primarily of relevance to the cosmetics industry. Skin sensitisation, or the ability of a chemical to cause an allergic response following dermal exposure, is one such effect that has been addressed by researchers at LJMU. One approach has been the identification of fragments of a molecule, defined in terms of chemistry, that have been coded computationally. The resultant predictive software has been used widely by industry and regulatory agencies across the world.

Further fundamental research at LJMU is developing toxicological data resources and predictive computational tools to estimate the effect of long-term and repeat-dose exposure to cosmetic ingredients. LJMU leads this research as part of a broad research initiative funded by the European Commission and the trade association for all major European cosmetics manufacturers (Cosmetics Europe) to provide solutions to the significant issues of determining the safety of cosmetics products.

Find out more about the research within the Chemoinformatics Research Group.

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