Are There Alternatives to Animal Testing?
Since the last nugget on how animal testing kills humans, I’ve had several inquiries about what viable alternatives there are. By the way, now that Ooby’s back, you’ll be hearing this in the background. *snoring sounds*. Now animal testing isn't just dangerous for humans, completely ineffective at producing any scientifically viable results and totally driven by greed, but it is not the only option. During a government meeting about funding for research, former US National Institute for Health Director, Dr Elias Zerhoni admitted that experimenting on animals to help humans has been a major failure.
He told his colleagues “We have moved away from studying human diseases in humans. We all drink the Kool-Aid on that one. Me included. The problem is that animal testing hasn’t worked and it’s time we stopped dancing around the problem.
We need to refocus and adapt new methodologies for use in humans to understand disease biology in humans.” Stated most simply, by Doctors MacLennan and Amos “There is no doubt that the best test species for man is man.” So what are the alternatives? I’ll be pulling a lot of my information from the John Hopkins University Centre for the alternatives to animal testing. Now we don’t have time to cover all of the alternatives but here are the basics. There are three main categories. First there are sophisticated tests using human cells and tissues.
This is known as in-vitro methods, then there are advanced computer modelling techniques often referred to in-silico methods, and third, there are studies with human volunteers. These and other non-animal tests are not hindered by the species differences that make applying animal test results to humans difficult or impossible. And, they usually take less time and money to complete. Here are some examples of in vitro testing. Harvard University’s Wyss Institute of biological inspired engineering has created organs on chips that contain human cells grown in a state of the art system to mimic the structure and functions of human organs and organ systems. The chips can be used instead of animals and have been shown to replicate human physiology, diseases and drug responses much more accurately than crude animal experiments do. Artery on a chip has been used to study heart disease and Canadian scientists have developed microfluidic chips to enable fragile blood vessels to be studied easily and cheaply.
The device will allow thousands of potential new drugs to routinely screened for their effect on blood vessels. Harvard’s Wyss institute has produced a breathing lung on a microchip on 2010. Wyss researchers were later awarded a grant to develop a spleen on a chip to treat sepsis. Now they have produced a physiological realistic gut on a chip which enables them to study much more complex interactions than previous cell cultures or animal models. They are currently working on more than 10 different organs with the ultimate goal of linking them all together with fluidic channels to produce a more representative model for testing medicine. Ceetox bought by Cyprotex, developed a method to assess the potential of a substance to cause a skin allergy in humans that incorporates Mat Tek’s epidurum tissue model, a three dimensional human cell derived skin model that replicates key traits of normal human skin.
Researchers of the European Union Reference Library for the Alternatives to Animal Testing 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 human body. The non-animal methods replaced the cruel use of rabbits in these painful tests. Now some examples of some In silico models. Researchers have developed a wide range of sophisticated computer models that simulate human biology and the progression of developing diseases. Studies show that these models can accurately predict the way that new drugs will react in the human body, now some examples of research with human volunteers. A method called micro dosing can provide vital information on the safety of an experimental drug.
Volunteers are given an extremely small one time dose and sophisticated imaging techniques are used to monitor how the drug behaves in the body. Advanced brain imaging and recording techniques such as Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging with human volunteers can be used to replace archaic experiments in which rats, cats and monkeys have their brains damaged. These modern techniques allow the human to be safely studied down to the level of a single neuron, like in the case of Intracranial Electroencephalography.
Yet another alternative are human patient simulators. These are strikingly lifelike computerized simulators who breath, bleed, convulse talk and even die. They have been shown to teach students physiology and pharmacology better than crude exercises that involve cutting up animals. The most high tech simulators mimic injuries and sickness and give the appropriate biological response to medical interventions and injections of medications and have been shown in numerous studies to impart life saving skills better than courses that require students to dissect living pigs, goats or dogs. So, as you can see there are plenty of viable alternatives to animals testing. The whole thing is a pretty shitty idea regardless of the existence of alternatives, but given there are alternatives that are cheaper, cruelty free and more effective there really is no fucking reason to continue testing on animals.
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