The validation and regulatory acceptance of non-animal alternative tests is critical to the adoption of more humane scientific methodologies.
Virtually all federally funded research is paid for with your tax dollars. Two of the main funders of animal-based research in North America, the U.S. National Institutes of Health and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, need to hear that you don’t want your tax dollars used to underwrite animal experiments and urge them to stop requiring cruel and obsolete animal tests for pharmaceuticals and allow companies to substitute in vitro tests. (Government funded animal testing costs U.S. taxpayers $12 billion annually)
Alternatives to animal tests are effective, reliable, affordable and humane. Proponents of non-animal testing methods in the scientific community have shown that these methods are quicker and cost-effective. Unlike crude, archaic animal tests, non-animal methods usually take less time to complete, cost only a fraction of what the animal experiments they replace cost, and are not plagued with species differences that make extrapolation difficult or impossible.
Forward-thinking companies are exploring modern alternatives. For example, Pharmagene Laboratories, based in Royston, England, is the first company to use only human tissues and sophisticated computer technologies in the process of drug development and testing. With tools from molecular biology, biochemistry, and analytical pharmacology, Pharmagene conducts extensive studies of human genes and how drugs affect those genes or the proteins they make. While some companies have used animal tissues for this purpose, Pharmagene scientists believe that the discovery process is much more efficient with human tissues.
Alternatives for Research Comparative studies of human populations allow doctors and scientists to discover the root causes of human diseases and disorders so that preventive action can be taken. Epidemiological studies led to the discoveries of the relationship between smoking and cancer and to the identification of heart disease risk factors. Population studies also demonstrated the mechanism of the transmission of AIDS and other infectious diseases and also showed how these diseases can be prevented.
In the course of treating patients, much has been learned about the causes of diseases and disorders. Studies of human patients using sophisticated scanning technology (e.g., MRI, PET, and CT) have isolated abnormalities in the brains of patients with schizophrenia and other disorders.
Cell and tissue culture (in vitro) studies are used to screen for anti-cancer, anti-AIDS, and other types of drugs, and they are also a means of producing and testing a number of other pharmaceutical products, including vaccines, antibiotics, and therapeutic proteins. The U.S. National Disease Research Interchange provides more than 120 types of human tissue to scientists investigating diabetes, cancer, cystic fibrosis, muscular dystrophy, glaucoma, and other human diseases. In vitro genetic research has isolated specific markers, genes, and proteins associated with Alzheimer’s disease, muscular dystrophy, schizophrenia, and other inherited diseases.
Those who experiment on animals artificially induce disease; clinical investigators study people who are already ill or who have died. Animal experimenters want a disposable “research subject” who can be manipulated as desired and killed when convenient; clinicians must do no harm to their patients or study participants. Animal experimenters face the unavoidable fact that their artificially created “animal model” can never fully reflect the human condition, whereas clinical investigators know that the results of their work are directly relevant to people.
Alternatives for Testing Alternatives to the use of animals in toxicity testing include replacing animal tests with non-animal methods, as well as modifying animal-based tests to reduce the number of animals used and to minimize pain and distress. Non-animal tests are generally faster and less expensive than the animal tests they replace and improve upon.
To date, several non-animal test methods have been formally validated and accepted by some countries as replacements for an existing animal test. Examples include:
- An embryonic stem cell test, using mouse-derived cells to assess potential toxicity to developing embryos, has been validated as a partial replacement for birth-defect testing in rats and rabbits.
- The 3T3 Neutral Red Uptake Phototoxicity Test, which uses cells grown in culture to assess the potential for sunlight-induced (“photo”) irritation to the skin.
- Human skin model tests such as the validated EpiDerm™ test, which has been accepted almost universally as a total replacement for skin corrosion studies in rabbits.
- The use of human skin leftover from surgical procedures or donated cadavers can be used to measure the rate at which a chemical is able to penetrate the skin.
- The use of a clinical patch test in human volunteers, which can confirm that a chemical will not cause irritation or allergic skin reactions.
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