Embryonic stem cells and the next generation of developmental toxicity testing.
The advent of stem cell technology has seen the establishment of embryonic stem cells (ESCs) as molecular model systems and screening tools. Although ESCs are nowadays widely used in research, regulatory implementation for developmental toxicity testing is pending. Areas Covered: This review evaluates the performance of current ESC, including human (h)ESC testing systems, trying to elucidate their potential for developmental toxicity testing. It shall discuss defining parameters and mechanisms, their relevance and contemplate what can realistically be expected. Crucially this includes the question of how to ascertain the quality of currently employed cell lines and tests based thereon. Finally, the use of hESCs will raise ethical concerns which should be addressed early on. Expert Opinion: While the suitability of (h)ESCs as tools for research and development goes undisputed, any routine use for developmental toxicity testing currently still seems premature. The reasons for this comprise inherent biological deficiencies as well as cell line quality and system validation. Overcoming these issues will require collaboration of scientists, test developers and regulators. Also, validation needs to be made worthwhile for academia. Finally we have to continuously rethink existing strategies, making room for improved testing and innovative approaches.