The Alternatives to Animal Testing

Speaking on a BBC World Service programme, Professor Michael Balls, the first head of the European Union Reference Laboratory for Alternatives to Animal Testing (EURL ECVAM), outlined his hope that all animal experimentation will end despite the continued rising trend in animal use in the UK:

I believe that if we really wanted to, we could work steadily towards a day in 10 to 20 years’ time when animal experimentation will have disappeared.

Experiments on animals are cruel and expensive, and they produce dangerously misleading results that are generally inapplicable to humans. With this in mind, the world’s most forward-thinking scientists are developing and using methods for studying diseases and testing products that replace the use of animals and are actually relevant to human health.

These modern methods include sophisticated tests using human cells and tissues (also known as in vitro methods), advanced computer-modelling techniques (often referred to as in silico models) and studies with human volunteers. These and other non-animal methods are not hindered by species differences that make applying animal-test results to humans difficult or impossible, and they usually take less time and money to complete.

PETA and its affiliates fund the development of many of these non-animal methods, publish research on their superiority to traditional animal tests and vigorously promote their use to governments and companies around the world.

MTT Plate

In Vitro Testing

  • Harvard’s Wyss Institute has created “organs-on-chips” that contain human cells grown in a pioneering method that mimics the structure and function of human organs and organ systems. The chips can be used instead of animals in disease research, drug testing and toxicity testing. They have been shown to replicate human physiology, diseases and drug responses more accurately than crude animal experiments do. Some companies, such as the HµRel Corporation, have already turned these chips into products that researchers can use in place of animals.
 
  • A variety of cell-based tests and tissue models can be used to assess the safety of drugs, chemicals, cosmetics and consumer products. CeeTox (bought by Cyprotex) developed a method to assess the potential of a substance to cause a skin allergy in humans that incorporates MatTek’s EpiDerm™ Tissue Model – a 3-dimensional, human cell–derived skin model that replicates key traits of normal human skin. It replaces the use of guinea pigs or mice, who would have been injected with a substance or had it applied to their shaved skin to determine an allergic response. MatTek’s EpiDerm™ is also being used to replace rabbits in painful, prolonged experiments that have traditionally been used to evaluate chemicals for their ability to corrode or irritate the skin.
  • Researchers at the EURL ECVAM have developed five different tests that use human blood cells to detect contaminants in drugs that cause a potentially dangerous fever response when they enter the body. The non-animal methods replace the cruel use of rabbits in this painful procedure.

Computer (In Silico) Modelling

  • Researchers have developed a wide range of sophisticated computer models that simulate human biology and the progression of developing diseasesStudies show that these models can accurately predict the ways that new drugs will react in the human body and can replace the use of animals in exploratory research and many standard drug tests.
  • Quantitative structure-activity relationships (QSAR) are computer-based techniques that can replace animal tests by making sophisticated estimates of a substance’s likelihood of being hazardous, based on its similarity to existing substances and our knowledge of human biology. Companies and governments are increasingly using QSAR tools to avoid animal testing of chemicals, and PETA’s affiliate in the US actively promotes and funds their use internationally.

Research With Human Volunteers

  • A method called “microdosing” can provide vital information on the safety of an experimental drug and how it is metabolised in humans prior to large-scale human trials. Volunteers are given an extremely small one-time drug dose, and sophisticated imaging techniques are used to monitor how the drug behaves in the body. Microdosing can replace certain tests on animals and help screen out drug compounds that won’t work in humans so that they won’t needlessly advance to government-required animal testing.
  • Advanced brain imaging and recording techniques – such as functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) – with human volunteers can be used to replace archaic experiments in which the brains of rats, cats and monkeys are damaged. These modern techniques allow the human brain to be safely studied down to the level of a single neuron (as in the case of intracranial electroencephalography), and researchers can even temporarily and reversibly induce brain disorders using transcranial magnetic stimulation.
  • Instead of experimentally inducing human diseases in animals in artificial environments, epidemiological studies – the study of diseases naturally occurring within populations – can provide vital, human-based information on the risk factors and causes of diseases. These types of studies have informed us about the relationship between smoking and cancer, the mechanism of the transmission of AIDS and other infectious diseases and the identification of heart disease risk factors, allowing appropriate measures to be taken to prevent or reduce the occurrence of those diseases.

Human-Patient Simulators

  • Strikingly life-like computerised human-patient simulators that breathe, bleed, convulse, talk and even “die” have been shown to teach students physiology and pharmacology better than crude exercises that involve cutting up animals. The most high-tech simulators mimic illnesses and injuries and give the appropriate biological responses to medical interventions and injections of medications.
  • For more advanced medical training, systems like TraumaMan – which replicates a breathing, bleeding human torso and has realistic layers of skin, tissue, ribs and internal organs – are widely used to teach emergency surgical procedures. These systems have been shown in numerous studies to impart lifesaving skills better than courses that require students to shoot or cut into live pigs, goats or dogs.

Trauma Man simulator

PETA is a member of the PETA International Science Consortium. Visit the Consortium’s website for more information on PETA’s global work to promote the development and use of modern non-animal research and testing methods. A list of all non-animal toxicity testing methods approved by regulators can be found here.

The number of people who object to animal experiments is growing all the time with increasing awareness of exciting, progressive and effective science that uses non-animal methods to the advantage of both humans and other species.

If the UK is to be at the forefront of science, we must accept the overwhelming majority view (79 per cent) of the public by embracing and investing in these new technologies instead of focusing on animal tests that delay medical progress and dangerously mislead us about disease.

For ways to get involved in helping to end cruel experiments on animals, please visit our Action Centre.