Evaluation of local tolerance of a plant extract by the slug mucosal irritation (SMI) assay
De Wever, Bram
De Spiegeleer, Bart
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This article describes the performance of a laboratory exercise, the Slug Mucosal Irritation (SMI) assay, carried out by third year undergraduate students, to investigate the local tolerance of an ethanolic plant extract. The plant extract, Spilanthes acmella, contains various bio-active compounds, such as the N-alkylamide spilanthol. After administration of the plant extract to the slugs, they were observed for possible discomfort and tissue damage. When slugs are exposed to a substance with irritant properties, the mucus production of the slugs will increase. Furthermore, slugs will release proteins, including enzymes, when tissue damage occurs. This laboratory experiment is a practically feasible in vivo test using slugs which are invertebrates that are not protected by the legislation on animal testing. Students were supervised by lab instructors who encouraged students to actively contribute in their groups, to think about the experimental design of the laboratory test, and to facilitate scientific discussions, but the majority of the ideas had to come from the students themselves. Hence, this biomedical in vivo experiment offered a great opportunity for students to learn to work in group, to critically interpret and report their results, to gain knowledge about the subject, and to communicate and discuss with other students as well as with the lab instructors. Furthermore, this experiment teaches students current toxicological methodologies encompassing principles and their application of biochemistry, analytical chemistry, toxicology, animal experimentation and data handling. This way of interdisciplinary teaching is especially important for last year undergraduate students, as this is a good preparation for the Masters dissertation. At the end of the laboratory exercise, students received a questionnaire and most of the students indicated that they gained valuable knowledge and skills. This laboratory exercise can be incorporated into chemical, biological, pharmaceutical, toxicological and medical disciplines.
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