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Status and Prospects of In Vitro Tests in Risk Assessment

Kimmo Louekari

According to the new chemicals policy of the European Union (EU), most chemicals, i.e. the 20,000 chemicals manufactured or imported at 1–10 tons annually, should be tested primarily by using in vitro methods. Also, for other chemicals, the use of in vitro methods is encouraged in the testing strategies given in the draft EU legislation. However, the validation and international acceptance of in vitro tests has been slow. Only recently has the OECD approved four new in vitro test methods, validated by the European Centre for the Validation of Alternative Methods. An analysis of ten randomly selected risk assessment reports of the EU Existing Chemicals Risk Assessment Programme showed that in vitro studies, for example, on cytotoxicity to different cell cultures, cell transformation, metabolism and skin penetration (a total of 115 studies) were used for the assessments. Key metabolic pathways and mechanisms of toxicity have been elucidated, for some chemicals, by using in vitro methods. On the other hand, the results of in vitro studies were regarded as secondary or unreliable in some cases. For several toxic endpoints, in vitro methods will probably serve as screening tools and for mechanistic studies, while target organ toxicity or physiologically regulated adverse effects caused by long-term exposure are difficult to observe without the use of animal models.