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Singapore researchers develop the world’s first cellular imaging platform for predicting the toxicity of compounds to the kidney

Researchers at A*STARS’s Bioinformatics Institute (BII) and the Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology (IBN) have developed a highly efficient and accurate cellular imaging platform for predicting the toxicity of compounds to the kidney.

To briefly mention, chemical compounds which may originate from food, medicine, or even the environment, could be harmful and injure one’s kidney and impair its function of eliminating waste from the body. From this, one-fifth of such cases in medical institutions are found to be attributed to nephrotoxic drugs.

As of yet, there are no accurate methods to screen for large numbers of potentially nephrotoxic compounds with diverse chemical structures.

Existing approaches that predict the toxicity of chemical compounds are carried out through animal testing, which is extremely expensive. Asides from being unable to screen the ever-increasing numbers of potentially nephrotoxic compounds used in products, ethical issues are of great concern. 

Other measures are similarly slow, laborious, and costly. Some might even require pre-requisites for this.

Thus, what distinguishes this new innovation is that it is the first and only cell-based renal screening platform that can predict nephrotoxicity with high accuracy. This innovation is especially useful for countries with bans for cosmetics e.g. EU, India, Norway.

Dr Lit-Hsin Loo, Principal Investigator from BII who co-authored the study, said, “By automatically analysing more than 25,000 microscopy images of cells treated with different compounds, we were able to identify phenotypic signatures of kidney cells that can be used to predict the in vivo toxicity of compounds with diverse structures and mechanisms, with a validated accuracy of 80 – 90%.”

Improvements have been made as researchers have now developed an imaging-based method that can be used to test much larger numbers of compounds.

Ultimately, there is still a need to continue researching and working together to improve and further validate the use of this approach, to ensure that their work will help to make products safer for consumers and patients Image from A*STAR-BII and IBN researchers who developed the world’s first high-throughput imaging platform for predicting kidney toxicity (clockwise from bottom left) : Dr Ran Su, Dr Lit-Hsin Loo, Dr Daniele Zink and Dr Sijing Xiong)

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