The 'Black Box' prize of £250,000 (€293,000) hopes to stimulate an international research focus on describing human toxicology pathways and the development of assays and computational tools to identify whether or not chemicals trigger these pathways and cause adverse effects.
Following the cosmetics ban in Europe back in March this year, the hope is that this will see the development of breakthrough alternatives that can also be used in other industries too.
Lush’s business model is well-known for its animal-free testing ethos and the Prize was conceived, in partnership with the Ethical Consumer Research Association, as a pragmatic endeavour to encourage the delivery of alternatives to animal models, when it was introduced last year.
If the prize is not awarded in any one year, the £250k is split equally across several categories - including Science, Young Researcher and Training awards - to reward innovative scientists and initiatives that are working towards the replacement of animal testing.
Dr Kelly BéruBé, director of the Lung & Particle Research Group at Cardiff University’s School of Bioscience is one of the judges, and says she is excited to see the developments that are submitted.
“To me there’s no doubt that generating more robust and relevant research results based on knowledge of human toxicology pathways could have significant impact on the speed and cost of translating basic research into patient benefit,” says the internationally renowned scientist.
“The research community has got stuck in a rut of using a test model that we know doesn’t really fit the bill at all – and that the public is generally uncomfortable with us using - because regulatory bodies insist on using animals. I think it’s time to develop innovative solutions to these challenges that can really help to change this culture.”
The £250k Prize will be offered to a research team that fully elucidates and describes a human toxicity pathway, with experimental evidence to demonstrate all the links in the pathway from the first interaction of one or more chemical molecules to the full effects at the cellular level.
“Whilst a full elucidation of some toxicity pathways is close – for example for direct carcinogens and for skin sensitising chemicals, the Black Box award is likely to need a large collaborative effort, involving a raft of new and emerging models and techniques that bring together components to answer different aspects of one question,” says Dr BéruBé.
“It’s a tough ask, and that’s reflected in the size of the Prize, which is a serious amount of money.”