Q – WHAT ALTERNATIVES CAN BE USED FOR TESTING RATHER THAN ANIMALS, AND HOW EFFECTIVE ARE THEY?
A – It is imperative that the development of new approaches in research is a priority to eliminate the proven unreliability of animal testing together with the cruelty and suffering of animals previously and current used.
Consequently a number of international scientific organisations have called for the development of mechanism based alternatives that are more predictive of the human species and this has created attention being focused on non-animal technologies, such as tissue engineering, stem cells (both also known as in-vitro), mathematical and computer modelling (also referred to as in-silico) together with studies on human volunteers and human simulators.
In-vitro: Human cells are grown using the latest technology which imitate human organs and organ systems and are subsequently used instead of animals in disease research, drug testing and toxicity testing which have resulted in replicating human physiology, diseases and drug responses, the results of which are more accurate than animal experiments.
In-silico Modelling: Complex and high-tech computer models have been developed that simulate human physiology together with the advancement of new diseases, and studies have supported that these can accurately predict the effect that new drugs will react in the human species.
Human Volunteers: Micro-dosing is administered to human volunteers who are given a ‘micro’ drug dose and state of the art imaging (PET) monitor and record how the drug acts in the human species. Micro-dosing can replace some tests on animals and results can determine if the drugs tested are unsuitable in humans.
Humane Simulators: These have been developed to provide life-like and life-size computerised replicas of humans which can bleed, convulse, talk, bleed and ‘die’ and are extensively used in medical schools and research facilities rather than animals to explore physiology and pharmacology.
Organs on a Chip: Wyss Institute researchers and a multidisciplinary team of collaborators have engineered microchips that recapitulate the microarchitecture and functions of living human organs, including the lung, intestine, kidney, skin, bone marrow and blood-brain barrier.
These microchips, called ‘organs on a chip, offer a potential alternative to traditional animal testing. Each individual organ on a chip is composed of a clear flexible polymer about the size of a computer memory stick that contains hollow micro-fluidic channels lined by living human cells interfaced with a human endothelial cell-lined artificial vascaluture, and mechanical forces can be applied to mimic the physical micro-environment of living organs, including breathing motions in lung and peristalsis-like deformations in the intestine. Because the micro-devices are translucent, they provide a window into the inner workings of human organs.
3D bioprinting of tissues and organs: Recent advances have enabled 3D printing of biocompatible materials, cells and supporting components into complex 3D functional living tissues. 3D bioprinting is being applied to regenerative medicine to address the need for tissues and organs suitable for transplantation. Compared with non-biological printing, 3D bioprinting involves additional complexities, such as the choice of materials, cell types, growth and differentiation factors, and technical challenges related to the sensitivities of living cells and the construction of tissues. Addressing these complexities requires the integration of technologies from the fields of engineering, biomaterials science, cell biology, physics and medicine. 3D bioprinting has already been used for the generation and transplantation of several tissues, including multilayered skin, bone, vascular grafts, tracheal splints, heart tissue and cartilaginous structures. Other applications include developing high-throughput 3D-bioprinted tissue models for research, drug discovery and toxicology.
Effectiveness: So far the effectiveness of these mechanism based alternatives has been impressive and reliable, although it must be remembered that data building is still in its relatively early stages, particularly when compared to the data gathered over the many years of animal testing.
Q – HOW CAN YOU TELL IF A PRODUCT IS NOT TESTED ON ANIMALS
A – Despite the testing for cosmetic products, and their ingredients, on animals being banned in the UK in 1998 and across the EU in 2013, it is important to note that some companies who profess to be ‘cruelty free’ may sell into other Countries who do not have this ban.
Unfortunately, advertising, slogans and packaging can be very misleading and intentionally so. Companies don’t want to attract negative attention or poor public opinion and so will often try to conceal their participation in animal testing behind deceptive wording and ambiguous emblems. To give an example, this statement appears to unequivocally state that the company does not test on animals:
“XXX no longer tests on animals any of its products or any of its ingredients, anywhere in the world. Nor does XXX delegate this task to others.”
Seems pretty irrefutable, right? However, the above paragraph is immediately followed by:
“An exception could only be made if regulatory authorities demanded it for safety or regulatory purposes.”
So what does this mean? In short, absolutely nothing. The opening sentences are a ploy to lull consumers into a false belief that this company doesn’t engage in animal testing – whilst the closing sentence clearly states that they do. Unfortunately, the assurance given initially in that paragraph will be enough to convince many consumers into believing that company is cruelty free.
Companies will also label their products with logos such as rabbits, leaves or globes, so we associate the product with being cruelty free, organic or natural. Unfortunately, not all rabbit logos are a certification of cruelty free, but many shoppers will not differentiate between the Leaping Bunny (for example) logo and other, similar logos (which may hold no credentials at all).
There are many websites who will detail those companies who are (or are not) cruelty free.