Alternatives to Animal Testing Shape the Future of Science A Humane World

By Kitty Block and Sara Amundson

For years, our covert investigations into American animal research labs have helped raise awareness of the immense animal suffering caused by animal testing and experimentation. Pregnant rabbits are force-fed toxic pesticides. Cats have spinal cord damage and are forced to run on treadmills. The rats are placed in small tubes and inhaled cigarette smoke.

It is estimated that more than 50 million dogs, cats, monkeys, rabbits, rats and other animals undergo painful experiences like these in the United States each year. The horrors of animal testing seem to be weighing more and more on the popular conscience: our Save Ralph short film about a lab “tester” rabbit inspired nearly 800 million #SaveRalph posts and tributes on TikTok and spurred more than 5 million people to sign a petition calling for an end to cosmetic testing on animals; animal testing is even a major theme in the latest Guardians of the Galaxy movie.

We are determined to find ways to save animals from suffering. Thanks to advances in technologies that test disease treatments and the effects of products, we don’t have to choose between saving human or animal lives.

Animal testing is not a necessary evil to ensure human or environmental health and safety; it is increasingly clear that an unquestioning faith in animal testing can hinder – rather than help – efforts to ensure the efficacy of products designed to fight human diseases and conditions. Indeed, applying what works in another species under artificial conditions to what works in a human being in the real world has always been approximate.

A drug that may work for mice often won’t work for monkeys, and a drug that works for monkeys often won’t work for humans. About 90% of drugs ultimately fail in human trials after animal trials. And the reverse also happens: A drug found to be toxic to dogs will likely never make it to human clinical trials, meaning potentially life-saving drugs go unresearched.

Fortunately, we are on the eve of a paradigm shift. Advanced non-animal technologies currently being used and developed are based on human biology. Human cells, tissues and organs, 3D bioprinting, robotics, computer models and other advanced technologies are much more sophisticated and, compared to animal experiments, can more accurately and efficiently predict how people will react to drugs, chemicals and treatments. Some of these modern approaches even use a patient’s own cells to test treatments, or use drugs based on a person’s unique makeup, known as personalized medicine.

Here are some of the conditions currently benefiting from cutting-edge technologies that are shaping the future of science and human health, with no animals harmed in the process:

Cystic fibrosis: Organoids, which are 3D replicas of human organs, created with intestinal cells from people with cystic fibrosis have been used to test various drugs to determine which drug would work best for each person.

Zika virus: Brain organoids created with human cells have been shown to cause Zika virus to cause microcephaly (small head size) in babies born to mothers infected with the virus. This discovery would not have been possible in animal experiments due to differences in the structure of the animal and human brain. The scientists then used brain organoids to test potential drugs that could be used to prevent or reduce the damage caused by microcephaly.

Cancer: Lung Organ on a Chip (a tiny 3D chip created from human cells that looks and functions like a miniature human organ) has shown that fluid buildup in the lungs caused by a drug frequently used by patients with cancer was triggered by a patient’s lungs expanding and contracting, a finding that would not have been possible in animal experiments because researchers cannot stop and restart an animal’s lungs. The organ-on-a-chip was then used to test drugs that would reduce fluid buildup.

Chronic inflammatory demyelinating neuropathy: A nervous system organ-on-a-chip using human cells and blood samples was created to show that muscle weakness in people with CIDP, a rare autoimmune disease, was caused by a component of the blood causing nerve damage, leading to muscle weakness. The results helped scientists gain approval for a human clinical trial for a drug to treat the disease in people with CIDP. Rare conditions cannot be studied using animal experiments because scientists cannot recreate diseases in animals, but scientists develop organs on chips using patient cells to understand these diseases and test for possible treatments.

Skin allergies: A series of non-animal tests examining how human cells react to chemicals and how those chemicals interact with other substances are used to determine if ingredients in everyday products such as laundry detergents , body lotions and drain cleaners will trigger an allergic reaction. in human skin. These non-animal approaches have proven to be more accurate than the outdated guinea pig and mouse tests that are still in use.

Cardiac arrhythmias: Computer models using recordings of human heart activity are used to test for potential adverse drug effects. Many drugs that are successfully tested on animals fail in human clinical trials due to dangerous effects on the human heart. This approach allows researchers to screen drugs before they are tested on humans, without using animals.

Autism spectrum disorder: Scientists are using non-embryonic stem cells from the abandoned baby teeth of children with ASD to create nerve cells, which can be used to study how the brains of children with ASD are different.

Pioneering technologies like these are already revolutionizing human health. But insufficient funding, slow validation and regulatory acceptance processes, and decisions by research funding agencies to continue supporting irrelevant animal models limit how quickly they can supplant animal experiments.

We urge state and federal governments, regulatory agencies (such as the Food and Drug Administration, Environmental Protection Agency, and National Institutes of Health), businesses, and universities to dramatically increase the use of non-animal methods and investments in the development of new human and non-animal approaches. The millions of animals suffering unnecessarily in laboratories right now cannot wait.

Urge the FDA to prioritize a move to more accurate non-animal testing methods.

Sara Amundson is chair of the Humane Society’s Legislative Fund.

Categories Animal Research & Testing

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