Animal testing, is there any other option?

Undoubtedly, animal testing has contributed to scientific advances, yet what are the possibilities of reducing the annual use of more than one hundred million animals in laboratories around the world?
Animal testing, is there any other option?
Photo: File photo/EL UNIVERSAL
03/03/2018
15:04
Berenice González Durand
Mexico City
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Rhesus macaques (Macaca mulatta) are stellar characters in the history of science. Precisely, the Rh factor, a protein in the membrane of red blood cells that serves to prevent blood incompatibility, was named in honor of this species as they were used in the investigations of the scientists Karl Landsteiner and Alexander S. Weiner in 1937.

Before Laika, the famous space dog, Albert was the first astronaut monkey. On June 11, 1948, he was thrown in a rocket which reached a height over 60 kilometers, but unfortunately, he died suffocated in the mission. His successor, Albert II, survived a second flight, but he died when the spaceship crashed.

Recently, an investigation by the New York Times exposed the use of monkeys by the German automaker Volkswagen to test the effects of diesel. An episode which the protective associations rekindled the animal testing debate as the experiments forced the monkeys to breathe fumes from diesel vehicles to measure health impact.

Undoubtedly, animal testing has contributed to scientific advances, yet what are the possibilities of reducing the annual use of more than one hundred million animals in laboratories around the world?

Dr. Elizabeth Téllez, a researcher supported by the University Program on Bioethics and the Institute of Philosophical Research of the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), points out that the ethical assumptions for animal testing are cataloged under the following concepts: replacement, reduction, and refinement.

The first referring to the use of other means when feasible, the second regarding minimizing the number of living beings used, and the third seeking to avoid cruelty.

Elizabeth Téllez cites as an example of replacement cultivated human tissue that has been successfully used for human skin toxicity tests, emphasizing that many advances have been made in the laboratory tests of the cosmetic industry, for instance, the already validated alternative of synthetic leather for some tests.

"The European Union prohibited animal testing in cosmetic products and the example was followed by other countries such as Canada and the U.S., but beyond the cosmetic purpose, animals are forgotten in research for other products," states Téllez, highlighting the importance to create awareness regarding animal testing to all kinds of tests, namely surgical techniques, vaccines, etc.

Despite the refusal of working on models that are not alive, there is more and more research on functional alternatives in various fields of research, for example, those conducted by the ISPRA Laboratory in Italy. An institution that constitutes an international reference in the analysis and research of the environment, water, biodiversity, and fauna.

They have used brain cells in vitro to successfully test sensitivity to toxic substances such as those inhaled by the macaques, as well as pesticides and herbicides that can affect neuronal electrical activity, which would be a great advance in the neurotoxicological field in animal tests.

However, the specialist stresses that the most accepted tests remain animal tests as they are based on tradition: "because this is how it has always been done because animals are cheap, disposable and above all because they are not human."

“We are on the right track, but there is more work to be done yet"

sg

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