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Toxicol Appl Pharmacol. 2010 Aug 15;247(1):18-27. doi: 10.1016/j.taap.2010.05.007. Epub 2010 May 21.

Predicting human developmental toxicity of pharmaceuticals using human embryonic stem cells and metabolomics.

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Stemina Biomarker Discovery, Inc., 504 S. Rosa Rd., Suite 150, Madison, WI 53719, USA.


Teratogens, substances that may cause fetal abnormalities during development, are responsible for a significant number of birth defects. Animal models used to predict teratogenicity often do not faithfully correlate to human response. Here, we seek to develop a more predictive developmental toxicity model based on an in vitro method that utilizes both human embryonic stem (hES) cells and metabolomics to discover biomarkers of developmental toxicity. We developed a method where hES cells were dosed with several drugs of known teratogenicity then LC-MS analysis was performed to measure changes in abundance levels of small molecules in response to drug dosing. Statistical analysis was employed to select for specific mass features that can provide a prediction of the developmental toxicity of a substance. These molecules can serve as biomarkers of developmental toxicity, leading to better prediction of teratogenicity. In particular, our work shows a correlation between teratogenicity and changes of greater than 10% in the ratio of arginine to asymmetric dimethylarginine levels. In addition, this study resulted in the establishment of a predictive model based on the most informative mass features. This model was subsequently tested for its predictive accuracy in two blinded studies using eight drugs of known teratogenicity, where it correctly predicted the teratogenicity for seven of the eight drugs. Thus, our initial data shows that this platform is a robust alternative to animal and other in vitro models for the prediction of the developmental toxicity of chemicals that may also provide invaluable information about the underlying biochemical pathways.

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