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In 1980, The New York Times ran a full-page ad by an animal rights group criticizing a popular cosmetics company for testing its products on rabbits. The campaign was so effective that it led several beauty companies to pledge hundreds of thousands of dollars to research to find alternative testing methods that did not involve animals.
What Alternatives Are There To Animal Testing
Before delving into the answer, there is an important difference to consider: although “animal testing” usually conjures up images of helpless rabbits being crushed and poked in the name of beauty, the use of animals in research and finding alternatives goes far beyond the cosmetics industry. Animals such as mice and rats are widely used in toxicology, the study of chemicals and their effects on us. Animals are also very important for drug discovery and testing. In biomedical research, animal models form the basis of many experiments that help researchers study everything from the operation of circuits in the brain to the development of disease in cells. [Do animals get seasick?]
Do “alternatives” Exist?
Despite its importance in this field, efforts are being made to reduce the number of animals used in testing. This is partly due to ethical concerns that have prompted new legislation in various countries. But it’s also about money and time.
“In theory, non-animal testing could be cheaper and faster,” said Warren Casey, director of the US National Toxicology Program’s Interagency Center for the Evaluation of Alternative Toxicological Methods, which analyzes alternatives to using animals for chemical safety testing. .
Another concern is that in some types of research, animals are too different from humans to successfully predict the effects of certain products on our bodies. “So we have ethics, efficiency and human connection,” Casey told Live Science, the three main factors driving the search for alternatives.
One approach is to replace animals with algorithms. Researchers are developing computational models that combine large amounts of research data to predict the effects of certain products on the body.
Development Of Alternatives To Animal Testing
“It’s a very simple approach. It’s very cheap,” said Hao Zhu, associate professor of chemistry at Rutgers University in New Jersey. Zhu is part of a research team that has developed a high-speed algorithm that extracts large amounts of data from online chemical databases to compare thousands of tested chemical compounds with new, untested compounds. It then uses what we know about the toxicity of the tested compounds to make reliable predictions about the toxicity of untested varieties with similar structures (assuming that the compounds have similar effects if these structures are shared).
Typically, many expensive and time-consuming animal tests are required to determine the effects of new compounds. But computational predictions like these can help reduce the amount of animal studies needed. “If we can show that the compound we want to bring to market is safe, I think this kind of research can replace existing animal studies,” Zhu said. A similar study by researchers at Johns Hopkins University in Maryland showed that algorithms can be better than animal tests in predicting toxicity in various compounds. [How Psychedelic Drugs Cause Strange Hallucinations]
In recent years, scientists have begun growing cultured human cells on scaffolds embedded in plastic flakes, creating tiny structures that mimic the workings of our hearts, livers, kidneys and lungs. Known as organ-on-a-chip, this could provide a new way to test the effects of new compounds or drugs on human cells.
Experiments on this simplified and scaled-down version of our physiology may produce more humane results than animal experiments. Most importantly, tests can also replace the use of whole animals in the exploratory phase of primary research. Organ-on-a-chip “often addresses a single output or endpoint,” Casey says—because all that may be needed at this early stage is to test the behavior of a single cell type in response to a drug or disease. , as a way to guide future research.
More Acceptance For Animal Free Research Methods
Florian Schmieder, a researcher at the Fraunhofer Institute for Materials and Radiation Technology who is working on this goal by developing small kidney and heart models, says, “This can often help reduce the number of animal tests that researchers plan as part of an ongoing project.” , at German. In addition to lungs, liver and heart, several companies are developing artificial 3D structures that replicate human skin. This is especially important in toxicology, where animal skin testing has long been central to understanding the effects of new, untested compounds.
Replacing them with harmless models is now a reality, Casey says: “Skin tissue models have really proven to work. They can give a picture of drastic changes – when something will erode and damage the skin.”
An argument often raised against animal testing is that if people want to benefit from new treatments, drugs and research, we should put ourselves as test subjects. This is a rather simplistic and extreme view – and, for example, in most countries, animal testing is required by law before drugs can be administered to humans. So it’s not necessarily practical either.
However, there are carefully controlled forms of human testing that have the potential to reduce the use of animals without endangering human health. One such technique is microdosing, where people receive small amounts of a new drug that does not have widespread physiological effects, but there is enough circulation in the system to measure its effects on individual cells.
The Many Benefits Of Using Alternatives To Animal Testing
The idea is that this careful approach can help weed out unviable drugs early, rather than using thousands of animals in studies that might determine whether just one drug isn’t effective. This approach has proven to be safe and effective enough that many large pharmaceutical companies are using microdosing to accelerate drug development. [Why do medical researchers use rats?]
“Of course there will be ethical concerns, but these are easily overcome by the potential gains in bringing safer and more effective drugs to market more efficiently,” Casey said.
So what do these alternatives mean for the future of animal testing? In some areas of research, such as cosmetics testing – where many existing products have already been proven safe through animal studies – there is a growing recognition that testing new products is something we don’t need to grow the industry. This is now confirmed by a regulation put forward by the European Union, which prohibits animal testing of any cosmetic product produced and sold in the EU.
We also see advances in toxicology research. Toxicologists have long relied on six basic animal-based tests that screen new products for acute toxicity — whether they cause skin irritation, eye damage or death if ingested. In the next two years, these basic tests will be replaced by non-animal alternatives in the United States, Casey said. The reason for this progress is that “the biology underlying this type of toxicity is simpler than other safety issues that can arise after prolonged chemical exposure, such as [animal] cancer or reproductive toxicity.” Casey said.
Animal Testing In New Zealand
But in other areas of research where the investigated questions are more complex, animal models still provide the only way to fully understand the multiple, widespread, long-term effects of compounds, drugs or diseases. “The physiology is really, really complex, and we haven’t really gotten into it yet,” Casey says — and there’s nothing that legitimately replicates it other than animal models.
Despite the most promising advances, such as the development of organs on a chip, it is still far from anything that represents the relevant human body. “The main challenge in the development of artificial organ systems is to capture all the complexities of living organisms in vitro,” says Schmieder. “The challenge here is to mimic the kinetics and dynamics of the human body in a truly predictive way.”
While organs-on-a-chip and other inventions can help answer simpler questions, whole animal models are currently the only way to study more complex effects—for example, how the functioning of circuits in the brain relates to behavior that can seen These are questions that help us understand human disease and ultimately lead to life-saving treatments and cures. Therefore, the animal experiments underlying these findings remain important. [Do animals have feelings?]
It should also be noted that the most promising non-animal tests we have today – such as algorithms – only work because they can use decades of animal research. We need to continue this research to move forward in the future, said Zhu.
Major Progress For Animals In Laboratories In 2021 Signals A More Humane Future
“We cannot use computers to completely replace animal testing. We still need some low-level animal testing to generate the necessary data,” Zhu said. “If you tell me to vote