Alternative methods to animal testing - 11/15/13

Alternative methods to animal testing

China has announced that it is considering lifting the mandatory requirement on animal testing for cosmetics, citing June 2014 as the date for change. Testing for reproductive toxicity is one of the costly challenges facing the field of toxicology, due to the sheer number of animals and the timescale needed to test even a single compound. Animal drug testing is often found to be unreliable, due to inter-species variation and the difficulty of producing homogenous and reproducible data.

Researchers at Cardiff University have successfully developed a model of lungs from human tissue that also includes metabolic reactions to predict how substances would be broken down inside the human body. The team states that these ‘micro-lungs’ are a more accurate way to test for the toxicity of new products such as hairspray, deodorant and perfumes, which they hope will replace the need for animal testing.

These miniature lungs can be cultivated using medical waste from cell banks and for £2000, four hundred can be grown from one subject. As animals have to be kept alive for the duration of the testing period, which is often years, the lungs are cost-effective as well as efficient.  Results can be produced in as little as twenty-four hours and provide a more realistic indication of toxicity. The team hope that these cultivated lungs will also be used to help cure lung diseases.

In-vitro testing is a method researchers hope to use to cure diseases such as Alzheimer’s and HIV, as it provides a more cost-effective and reliable form of testing than vivisection. By using human cells, a team at the Aarhus University Hospital tested a method to reactivate HIV reservoirs in order to trigger the immune system to kill the virus, which was so successful that it is now being used in clinical trials.

Funded by the European Commission and Cosmetics Europe, the NOTOX project is making predictive bioinformatics models, using computer algorithms to replicate the reactions the body undergoes when exposed to harmful materials. “These computer-aided models will help predict possible long-term toxic effects on the human body” says NOTOX coordinator, Elmar Heinzle, Professor of Applied Biochemistry and Biochemical Engineering at Saarland University. As well as being useful for cosmetics, the technology can also be used by the chemical and pharmaceutical industries.

Whilst there are numerous ethical arguments attached to the subject of animal testing, the main benefit of these new testing methods is their cost-effectiveness, improved accuracy and increased speed-to-market. Will animal testing be rendered obsolete or is it too vital a tool? 

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