The Netherlands were first with their plan for a transition to non- animal research. Now the Brussels-Capital Region, one of three regions in Belgium, has announced a ban on experiments on dogs, cats and non-human primates:
From 1st January 2020, experiments involving dogs, cats and primates will be forbidden in the Brussels-Capital Region. Not only will tests on dogs, cats and primates no longer be allowed, from 1st January 2025 animal experiments will also be prohibited in education and in safety tests except in cases where no alternatives are available and the tests are deemed absolutely necessary.
This is great news, and it shows it’s possible to phase out animal research. Of course, animal testing on cosmetics has already been banned in the 28 European Union countries, as well as in Norway, India and Israel. Several other countries are considering a ban.
Phasing out animal experimentation is not only possible, it is also necessary because the results vary for different species, strains and sexes. Transferability from animal to human studies can’t be assumed.
A recent news item illustrates this: 11 babies died after their mothers were given a Viagra-like drug during pregnancy. The women were part of a drug trial in the Netherlands that tested whether the drug sildenafil citrate could help boost the growth of the baby. Sildenafil had been tested on several animal species, including mice, rats, rabbits and dogs, and the authors of a systematic review concluded that:
… no teratogenic or fetotoxic effects of sildenafil have been reported in experimental animal models at dose levels much higher than those used in humans.
The review also included reports about a small number of pregnant women who were treated with sildenafil as a treatment for premature delivery. The efficacy of sildenafil was reported as “limited” and “conflicting”.
Meanwhile, a Queensland study using sildenafil on pregnant women has been temporarily halted. The Queensland study is different to the study in the Netherlands, and so far has no negative outcomes.
But back to the “good” news. Phasing out animal research depends on the availability of non-animal, human-relevant methods and technologies.
This month, researchers from the Johns Hopkins University demonstrated that artificial intelligence is more accurate than animal testing in spotting toxic chemicals. Professor Thomas Hartung, one the researchers, wrote:
… we have now developed a computer method of testing chemicals that could save more than a US$1 billion annually and more than 2 million animals. Especially in times where the government is rolling back regulations on the chemical industry, new methods to identify dangerous substances are critical for human and environmental health.
Hartung’s research group found that chemicals that are known to be toxic in humans are only proven so in about 70 % of repeated animal tests. The new computer software, however, identified toxic substances in 89% of 48,000 (toxic) chemicals that were tested.
Another area where fast progress is being made is organs-on-chips. The organs-on-chips market is expected to grow rapidly: from US $9.6 million in 2017 to US $45.6 million by 2022. (see also previous blog post from 25/04/2017)
Animal research is an inaccurate “science”, and better, human-relevant methods and technologies have been and are being developed. Which country or jurisdiction will be next to start phasing out animal research?