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Model Systems for the Risk Assessment of Biological Agents

Development of procedures for the examination of risk-relevant attributes of biological agents

Infection, toxicity and sensitising potential are attributes of biological agents which are relevant for their risk assessment. The Federal Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (BAuA) conducts research into measures which can provide information about a possible risk both rapidly and on a laboratory scale.

The determination of the infectious potential of biological agents and the basis for their classification in risk groups is largely based on described human infections with the corresponding biological agent, for example, a bacterium. This classification process can be lengthy and elaborate. It ultimately results in the classification of the biological agent to a risk group. Most workplaces in which biological agents are used are characterised by the highly complex stresses that are caused due to a number of different bacteria, moulds and viruses. To date, the toxic and sensitising potential of only a few biological agents is known for certain. BAuA is therefore working to establish in-vitro models which can provide information about a possible risk both rapidly and on a laboratory scale.

Examination of bacterial pathogenic factors in human cells

In one of its research projects, BAuA is using human cells as a model system in order to describe the pathogenic attributes of bacteria. In this respect, the human cells are exposed to bacteria or cell components of bacteria. To find the cellular stress markers which correlate with the pathogenic nature of these bacteria, a variety of biochemical and molecular biological methods are used.

Samples in test tubes Work on the infection model, © Dierk-Christoph Pöther, BAuA

Bioassays for characterising the human toxicity potential of bioaerosols

Regardless of their infectiousness, many of the micro-organisms contained in bioaerosols release substances such as exotoxins, endotoxins and mycotoxins. If these are inhaled, they can lead to occupational diseases or inflammations. To quantify airborne occupational exposure of this kind, BAuA uses procedures such as the LAL test (Limulus Amebocyte Lysate test), which is the standard approach for the measurement of endotoxins, and the human whole blood test.

Blood samples are pipetted in test tubes Work on the human whole blood test, © Dierk-Christoph Pöther, BAuA