Old habits die hard, although we know better. This is not only true for medical doctors’ (in Australian hospitals) lack of compliance with hand hygiene, but also for researchers who use outdated animal experimentation methods and extrapolate their findings to humans. But humans are not 70kg rats. Animals are not good models for the study of the human body and human diseases. This is why nine out of ten experimental drugs fail in clinical studies. We cannot accurately predict how drugs based on animal studies in the laboratory will perform in people.
Most people would understand why not washing hands between treating hospital patients can cause harm. But the public is only slowly realising that much animal research is not only unethical, but has little if any benefit for humans. It might even have prevented researchers from developing drugs that work for humans but have the opposite effects in animals.
So many arguments speak against animal experimentation:
- the decline in public support for animal research
- ethical reasons against the use of animals
- the lack of usefulness of animal research
- the notional commitment to the 3Rs (replacement, reduction, refinement) by governments and the research community.
Better scientific options are available for teaching and learning, basic research and toxicity testing.
NORINA , an English-language Norwegian inventory of alternatives includes over 3,800 records. These refer to audio-visual aids for schools and universities that may be used as alternatives or supplements to the use of animals in teaching and training, including dissection alternatives.
InterNICHE offers another database for alternatives within biological science, medical and veterinary medical education and a studies database.
Animalearn provides resources for educators and students at no cost.
Simulation animal models are an option for veterinary students to practice diagnostic and practical skills without the need to endanger or cause unnecessary discomfort to live animals.
Despite testing new compounds and drugs on animals, the frequency of liver and other toxicities associated with new medicines remains at unacceptable levels. At the same time, more reliable, safer, and often cheaper and faster alternatives are available.
Several promising new developments have recently been brought to the attention of the public.
Alternative livers have great potential to not only reduce the number of experimental animals, but also to be much more accurate in predicting toxicity in humans. An additional benefit can be the speed of testing.
At a recent American Chemical Society national meeting Dr Mukund Chorghade announced that his team at the company Empiriko had developed chemosynthetic livers that mimic metabolic processes. This technology called Biomimiks™ could soon replace the use of animals currently being used to test drugs and speed up drug testing.
Chorghade and his team have already demonstrated how Biomimiks™ works with about 50 pharmaceutical compounds. They are now working to test 100 drugs, which is the number required by the U.S. FDA for regulatory approval. (I wrote more about this in a previous post)
In the UK, a team from Cambridge University developed “mini-livers” from adult mouse stem cells. In February, this research won the UK’s international prize for the scientific and technological advance with the most potential to replace, reduce or refine the use of animals in science (the 3Rs). One of the researchers involved said that using this method, cells from one mouse could be used to test 1,000 drug compounds to treat liver disease, and reduce animal use by up to 50,000.
Organs-on-chips are another alternative to traditional animal tests that often fail to predict human responses. These are
microchips that recapitulate the microarchitecture and functions of living organs, such as the lung, heart, and intestine. … Each individual organ-on-chip is composed of a clear flexible polymer about the size of a computer memory stick that contains hollow microfluidic channels lined by living human cells.
Go3R, a search engine for alternative methods to animal experiments and AltTox.org, a database with alternatives for toxicity testing include many options for researchers who are serious about the 3Rs.
In Australia and in all countries that experiment on animals, there are compelling reasons for a much greater use of better scientific methods and a move away from the animal model paradigm in biomedical testing and research. An impressive range of non-animal basic research and toxicity testing methods is already available.