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Alternatives to Laboratory Animals - ATLA

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Development of a Cell-based Diabetic Wound Assay


Phil Stephens

Chronic wounds require prolonged healthcare and adversely affect the quality of life of patients. They are particularly prominent in patients with diabetes, and their relative numbers are set to increase with the rise of diabetes within our population. Research is still needed to understand the factors leading to such wounds, to understand why they persist for such long periods of time, and also to develop new and efficacious treatment strategies. One problem facing this research is a lack of adequate animal models, as the current models do not truly reflect the human condition and often lead to much animal suffering. Hence, over the past four years, our group has been trying to develop a human-based in vitro diabetic wound model, which could be used as a high-throughput screening system to pre-screen potential chronic diabetic wound healing agents and to reduce unnecessary animal pain and suffering. To this end, we have isolated healthy and diseased skin fibroblasts from patient tissue biopsies. Crucially, to create a cell reporter system that can be widely used in the future, the cells were immortalised in order to escape senescence. By using microarray analysis, gene expression pattern differences have been identified between healthy and diseased cells, and disease-specific ‘reporter’ genes have been selected for further studies. The promoters of these reporter genes have been coupled to fluorescent reporter constructs and inserted back into the diseased fibroblasts, so that we now have proof-of-concept for a real-time diabetic reporter system for future exploitation.