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New research could offer alternative to animals in drug tests

Visit University of Reading website

5 July 2011

Researchers funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, at the University of Reading, have developed a new way to test the adhesive qualities of drugs under laboratory development which could replace the current practice of using animal tissue.

The study has produced a synthetic tissue, a hydrogel, which mimics the properties of mucosal tissues, such as that found in the mouth and stomach, to assess how medicines will react in the body. Mucosal tissues taken from animals are commonly used in the development phase of new drugs.

Conventionally, tablets are given orally to patients for treating various diseases. These drugs pass through the patient's digestive system which breaks down the drug into its constituent components and flushes the rest of the compound out of the body. Consequently, only a small percentage of the medicine enters the patient's circulatory system, limiting the drug's effectiveness.

However, tablets that can attach to mucosal tissue extend the time the drugs remain in the body, reducing the frequency of dosing, and also offer the possibility of targeting particular body sites. Common conditions treated by mucoadhesive drugs include angina and inflammatory diseases.

Dr Vitaliy Khutoryanskiy, from Reading School of Pharmacy, said: "Mucosal tissues taken from animals are used by the pharmaceutical industry in the development of drugs to prolong the time that tablets are in contact with the mouth's mucosal lining. The use of animal tissues in adhesion experiments doesn't always produce the best results because of their variable properties.

"The new synthetic hydrogels mimicked the porcine mucosal tissues that we used in our study better than any other material we tested, and could prove a real alternative to using animal material for testing the mucoadhesive properties of future medicines."

The paper, 'Developing synthetic mucosa-mimetic hydrogels to replace animal experimentation in characterisation of mucoadhesive drug delivery systems,' is published in Soft Matter by the Royal Society of Chemistry today.


About the Reading School of Pharmacy

The Reading School of Pharmacy was established in 2004 with a £7M investment from the University as a centre of excellence in pharmacy education and research that aims to produce well qualified pharmacists for the 21st century.

The School currently has an undergraduate intake of around 100 students per year on the 4-year MPharm degree programme. Around 40 postgraduate students are registered for PhD degrees. The Reading School of Pharmacy also serves as a major provider of postgraduate professional training for registered pharmacists and other healthcare workers.

Teaching and research at Reading is delivered by a team of more than 30 dynamic and enterprising academic staff (a large proportion of whom are registered pharmacists) and support staff.


BBSRC is the UK funding agency for research in the life sciences and the largest single public funder of agriculture and food-related research.

Sponsored by Government, BBSRC’s budget for 2011-12 is around £445M which it is investing in a wide range of research that makes a significant contribution to the quality of life in the UK and beyond and supports a number of important industrial stakeholders, including the agriculture, food, chemical, healthcare and pharmaceutical sectors.

BBSRC provides institute strategic research grants to the following:

  • The Babraham Institute
  • Institute for Animal Health
  • Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences (Aberystwyth University)
  • Institute of Food Research
  • John Innes Centre
  • The Genome Analysis Centre
  • The Roslin Institute (University of Edinburgh)
  • Rothamsted Research

The Institutes conduct long-term, mission-oriented research using specialist facilities. They have strong interactions with industry, Government departments and other end-users of their research.

External contact

Rona Cheeseman, Press Office, University of Reading

tel: 0118 378 7388