Competition winners pioneer animal-free toxicity screening

· Customer Testimonial

Competition winners pioneer animal-free toxicity screening

DNTOX was founded in 2022 from a working group at the IUF - Leibniz Research Institute for Environmental Medicine, and offers in vitro methods for assessing the potential of environmental, pharmaceutical and dietary compounds to cause damage to the developing or adult human brain. The start-up’s neurotoxicity testing portfolio includes the proprietary Neurosphere Assay and AI software, which provide affordable and animal-free compound screening alternatives that only take a total of 5-6 weeks. The groundbreaking assays reduce the cost and time bottlenecks associated with traditional product development, and remove the ethical and welfare concerns related to animal testing.

Dr Kristina Bartmann, Co-founder of DNTOX and Head of Research and Development, explained: “Early brain development is extremely complex, and consists of many interlinking processes that can easily be disrupted by exposure to chemicals such as pesticides, medicines or even food supplements. Manufacturers are not legally required to test their compounds for their developmental neurotoxic potential, meaning that very few studies so far have investigated the effects of different substances on the human brain. We founded DNTOX to address this huge knowledge gap and help to prevent instances of neurotoxicity damage.”

DNTOX is still in the process of setting up its own independent laboratory space, and is planning to hire several additional employees in the near future, so the company had an urgent need for multiple liquid handling instruments. The researchers had previous experience working with several INTEGRA liquid handling instruments and platforms during their time at the IUF, and were keen to get more of the company’s pipetting products for their new lab thanks to their quality, ease of use and versatility. The group therefore applied to the ‘INTEGRA supports start-ups’ competition – which has now concluded – and was very excited to receive 31 single and multichannel EVOLVE manual pipettes and ECO rack GRIPTIPS, allowing them to accurately pipette volumes from 0.2 to 5000 μl.

Photo courtesy of DNTOX

Previously, the group had a small set of shared pipettes, so lab users frequently had to wait for an instrument to become free, and then sterilize it before use. This was extremely time consuming and limited the lab’s productivity. The team is planning to use its EVOLVE pipettes in its 96 well plating, compound exposure, and immunocytochemical staining and washing protocols, with several single and multichannel instruments of different volumes allocated to each liquid handling step to avoid cross contamination. Having a selection of pipettes dedicated to each specific bench will allow all of the DNTOX team members to work in parallel, greatly increasing the number of substances and samples the lab can process at one time. Kristina said: “We are currently a medium throughput lab, and are able to process up to around 120 compounds per year. The new EVOLVE pipettes with ECO rack GRIPTIPS are a valuable asset, and having so many pipettes will help us to drastically speed up our testing processes. They are also very easy and comfortable to use, and the quick set dial makes changing volumes on the go extremely convenient. This unique feature saves us a lot of time on a daily basis, streamlining our liquid handling processes. These time savings make a huge difference to a small company like us, and will ultimately enable us to screen a higher number of chemicals from a wider client base in the future.”

DNTOX collaborates with other research organizations investigating different endpoints, allowing them to collectively generate a more complete picture of all the potential ways chemical exposure can affect fetal brain development and adult brain function. The dynamic company is also looking to apply its assay technology beyond developmental and adult neurotoxicity to the study of other organ toxicities, for example, cardiotoxicity and immune toxicity, and plans to develop additional in vitro test methods for other domains of human development in the coming years. “Winning these new pipettes from INTEGRA is a huge encouragement to our team, and will support our expanding research into different neurotoxicological hazards. At the same time, they will also help us to continue leading the way in replacing animal-based toxicity experiments; a goal the whole DNTOX team is very passionate about,” Kristina concluded.

Mechanical pipette: EVOLVE single channel manual pipette.