Reliable and Truly Animal-Free Skin Sensitization Testing – Adaption of the In vitro GARD™skin to Animal-Free Conditions

Poster presented at the 2021 World Congress on Alternatives and Animal Use in the Life Sciences

Andy Forreryd, Anders Jerre, Fiona Jacobs, Carol Treasure, Henrik Johansson | SenzaGen AB, 22381 Lund, Sweden; XCellR8 Ltd, Techspace One, Sci-Tech Daresbury, Cheshire WA4 4AB, UK


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  • Senzacells adapted well to routine culture in human serum with comparable cell growth, morphology, and minimal impact on cellular phenotypes.
  • GARDskin based on HS demonstrated full concordance to protocols based on animal-derived FCS for hazard identification of skin sensitizers.
  • This work represents our ambition to gradually replace all animal derived components with human equivalents to enable completely animal-free skin sensitization testing.


A plethora of in vitro approaches for hazard assessment of skin sensitizers have recently been described and demonstrated to exhibit discriminatory properties competitive with those of accepted in vivo methods. However, the majority of these in vitro methods still use animal-derived components such as Foetal Calf Serum (FCS) within their standard protocols, imposing the question whether these methods should truly be considered as animal-free replacements.

Genomic Allergen Rapid Detection – GARD – is a genomics-based in vitro testing platform for assessment of numerous immunotoxicity endpoints. The endpoint-specific classification of skin sensitizers is a well-established application of the platform, referred to as GARDskin (OECD TGP 4.106). The assay is based on a human DC-like cell line (SenzaCells) and utilizes state-of-the-art machine learning to classify chemicals by monitoring the expression of 200 genes involved in cellular pathways associated with skin sensitization. GARDskin is progressing towards regulatory acceptance, and consistently reports accuracies > 90%.

Here, we present an adaption of the GARDskin standard protocol to enable for testing under animal-product-free conditions by replacing animal-based FCS with human derived serum. SenzaCells adapted well to routine culture in the human serum, showing comparable cell viability and growth rates to the animal-based FCS. A phenotypic analysis of common DC maturity markers showed minor changes in cell surface expression of the markers CD14 and CD1a, indicating that serum replacement did not significantly alter the phenotypic characteristics of the cells. Finally, a proficiency set of nine chemicals covering the full range from extreme sensitizers to non-sensitizers were evaluated. The protocol adapted to animal-free conditions showed full concordance to the conventional protocol, correctly classifying all chemicals.

In conclusion, this study demonstrates the potential to perform the GARDskin assay without the use of animal-derived components associated with animal welfare concerns, thus paving the way for truly animal-free and highly accurate hazard testing of skin sensitizers.