Animal Testing May Be Replaced by Technological Advances Mice, Dogs and Other Creatures of God's Creation Could Be Spared by Human Ingenuity

There was a time when using animals to test products intended for humans was an accepted practice. However, as society evolved, scientists and product developers realized the results of animal experiments didn’t always apply to humans. Also, animal experimentation is expensive, and it’s a practice many people understandably view as cruel.

Animal Testing. Credit: Rama, Wikimedia CommonsAs a result, scientists continually explore ways to verify the suitability of products without using animals. Let’s take a look at some of the methods both in use and in development.

A Federal Agency Seeks to Tweak Grant Criteria

A group comprised of members from 15 U.S. federal government agencies recently published a report advocating for alternative testing methods that are more relevant to humans and do not include animals. It’s known as the Interagency Coordinating Committee on the Validation of Alternative Methods, or ICCVAM.

Among other things, the organization wants to revise the criteria for awarding grants, because they are currently angled toward rewarding researchers working with animal models.

Furthermore, the report does not propose new legislation regarding animal testing. However, one of the goals of the ICCVAM is to get rid of the outdated laws that make it difficult to use testing methods not related to animals. As a whole, the report illuminates many of the things that make animal testing impractical and ineffective, then sets out ideas for moving forward with alternatives.

It’s too early to say what kind of an impact the report could have — if any. However, the fact it exists and contains information backed by so many government organizations is undoubtedly positive.

Computational Models Are Often More Accurate Than Animal Tests

Many of the lifesaving drugs on the market for humans included animal testing before the trials including people. However, researchers only have an accuracy rate of 75 to 85 percent when assessing the likelihood of human risks. In contrast, computerized models, such as those increasingly used for cardiac drug testing, can be more than 95 percent accurate.

Besides the accuracy benefits, computerized modeling systems are very efficient and can be based on known characteristics of human hearts in segments of segments of the population. Computer models are highly adaptable and can show the effects of drugs at the cellular level up to the entire heart, depending on researchers’ needs.

Using computerized models is part of what’s known as an in silico type of drug testing. This approach, which lets scientists see the effects of pharmaceuticals on “virtual humans,” won an international prize from the National Centre for 3Rs, plus won another award from a different organization last year.

Increased Questions About the Ethics of Animal Testing

There was a time when people thought only humans had mastered language and could think and feel. However, thanks to lab tests, scientists now know dogs, for example, can learn hundreds of English words. Despite dogs’ obvious intelligence, however, labs frequently use them for product testing.

There’s evidence that could be happening less often, at least in certain circumstances, though. As part of a new spending bill introduced to avoid a recent U.S. government shutdown, the Department of Veterans Affairs prohibited the use of dogs in its research unless there are no other alternatives. Researchers must also prove the absence of other options.

Israeli Scientists Pioneer an Improved Human-on-a-Chip Technology

Statistics indicate about 16 percent of FDA-approved drugs have unexpectedly toxic effects. However, a company in Israel called Tissue Dynamics developed a system that can show the effects of medication traditional human trials may miss, without using animal testing.

It uses a human-on-a-chip technology that’s superior to established methods. The process involves introducing drugs to human cell samples and looking for any associated damage. However, the Tissue Dynamics method uses simulated cells that receive exposure to drugs, then get monitored in real time. That approach allows for determining the specific harmful interactions, enabling scientists to study and attempt to remedy them.

Moreover, scientists watch the speed of such changes because the rate at which they appear helps identify the reason. The ones that happen very quickly are from the drug’s direct damage. However, if it takes several hours to see adverse effects, that means the issues are cumulative over time.

Tissue Dynamics already has a chip that simulates a liver. This year, it hopes to have new additions for the heart and brain, and there is reportedly a lot of interest in using them. L’Oréal was the company’s first customer, and more big brands could use the company’s technology soon. That’s especially likely, since European Union laws do not allow cosmetics testing on animals.

A Better Way to Record Brain Activity in Mice

Even in instances where scientists do not look for ways to avoid animal testing, they’re coming up with methods that cause less stress to the creatures in question. For example, researchers came up with a wireless, low-power device that captures brain activity readings in mice for up to 72 hours.

It does not require restraining the animals, but allows them to move freely in their cages, while reducing the handling from humans that can cause unnecessary trauma. Additionally, the devices used in the past to take this kind of data from mice were very heavy. This new sensor system is lightweight, and scientists will use it to understand more about brain and memory disorders.

Not so long ago, animal welfare during scientific testing was seemingly a topic of concern only for a niche segment of individuals. More recently, the scientific community and major brands alike have realized testing on animals is detrimental to them and may not even bring about results that relate to humans. As technologies continue to advance, perhaps animal testing will fall into disfavor and become an archaic practice.

Emily Folk is the editor of Conservation Folks. She writes on topics of sustainability, conservation and green technology.