Witt G, Keminer O, Leu J, Tandon R, Meiser I, Willing A, Winschel I, Abt JC, Brändl B, Sébastien I, Friese MA, Müller FJ, Neubauer JC, Claussen C, Zimmermann H, Gribbon P, Pless O

The embryonic stem cell test (EST) represents the only validated and accepted in vitro system for the detection and classification of compounds according to their developmental and reproductive teratogenic potency. The widespread implementation of the EST, however, in particular for routine application in pharmaceutical development, has not been achieved so far. Several drawbacks still limit the high-throughput screening of potential drug candidates in this format: The long assay period, the use of non-homogeneous viability assays, the low throughput analysis of marker protein expression and the compatibility of the assay procedures to automation. We have therefore introduced several advancements into the EST workflow: A reduction of the assay period, an introduction of homogeneous viability assays, and a straightforward analysis of marker proteins by flow cytometry and high content imaging to assess the impact of small molecules on differentiation capacity. Most importantly, essential parts of the assay procedure have been adapted to lab automation in 96-well format, thus enabling the interrogation of several compounds in parallel. In addition, extensive investigations were performed to explore the predictive capacity of this next-generation EST, by testing a set of well-known embryotoxicants that encompasses the full range of chemical-inherent embryotoxic potencies possible. Due to these significant improvements, the augmented workflow provides a basis for a sensitive, more rapid, and reproducible high throughput screening compatible platform to predict in vivo developmental toxicity from in vitro data which paves the road towards application in an industrial setting. Graphical abstract •The embryonic stem cell test to predict teratogenicity was made automation-compatible. •Several key improvements to the assay procedure have been introduced to increase performance. •The workflow was adapted to human iPS cells and isogenic fibroblast donor cells. 

Cell Biol Toxicol. 2021 Apr;37(2):229-243.

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