Stem Cell Models for Drug Discovery and Toxicology Studies

Wenwei Liu, Yaguang Deng, Ying Liu, Wenrong Gong, Wenbin Deng

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

55 Scopus citations


Human stem cells and their derivatives could provide virtually unlimited sources of tissue for a wide range of toxicity models that could complement conventional animal models with more relevant, humanized versions. Human embryonic stem cells (hESCs) have already been proven valuable for drug/toxicity screens and mechanistic studies including analysis of disease pathway and developmental toxicity. Human-induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs), which are generated by reprogramming somatic cells back to become hESC-like cells, allow assays to be designed where the contribution of an individual's genetic background or environmental exposure history to toxicity response can be determined. Comprehensive profiling of hESC/iPSCs via genomics, proteomics, transcriptomics, and metabolomics could be used to elucidate pathway perturbations that underlie toxicity and disease, enabling the development of predictive assays for toxicity. While technological hurdles still exist for widespread use and implementation, incorporation of human stem cell based assays into drug discovery and toxicity testing offers the potential for safer, more customized medicines and more accurate risk assessment for environmental toxicants, as well as reduced costs and decreased use of animal models. We examine limitations and deficiencies of current toxicology approaches and how human stem cell based in vitro assays may overcome them. We describe how human stem cells are used for predictive toxicology. We also identify technological limitations that prevent stem cells from being integrated into standard practice, as well as new tools and technologies that may overcome them. We discuss research priorities that are most useful for transforming cell-based toxicology models into reality, and research areas in which stem cell technology could make substantial contributions to the development and implementation of stem cell based models for toxicity testing. Increased use of human in vitro models of toxicity could reduce the use of animals in safety and risk assessment studies and offers the potential to dramatically enhance our understanding of the molecular basis of toxicity, leading to improved human models and assays for predicting biological response to drugs and environmental hazards.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)17-27
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Biochemical and Molecular Toxicology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2013


  • Drug Discovery
  • Embryonic Stem Cell
  • Environmental Health Science
  • Iduced Pluripotent Stem Cell
  • Toxicity Testing

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry
  • Molecular Biology
  • Molecular Medicine
  • Toxicology
  • Health, Toxicology and Mutagenesis


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