Rapid innovation in technology has provided scientists with an ‘alternative’ to animal models

Is it possible to do away with the practice of using animals for developing medicinal products, consumer goods and industrial process? Yes, by 2050, the use of animals in all forms of research will cease worldwide, said the president and CEO of Humane Society International (HSI), Dr. Andrew Rowan.

In a talk on 21 Century Science: How India Can Make a Paradigm Shift, organised by HSI-India here, Dr. Rowan said rapid innovation in technology has provided scientists with an ‘alternative’ to animal models. It was time the Indian scientific, corporate and regulatory communities embraced newer technologies that put an end to animal testing, he feels.

Worldwide trend

There is a declining trend in using animal models, especially in the U.S. and U.K., and the funding to do away with such methods has picked up. There is growing frustration over existing testing methods that are time-consuming, restrictive in the number of substances that can be tested, and provide little understanding of how chemicals behave in the human body. The prediction is that by 2025, testing of chemicals on animals will stop, and by 2050, all kinds of testing on animals, including vaccines, will cease.

Alternatives

Till recently, safety-testing of chemicals was based on causing toxic symptoms in animals. These days, the stress is more on understanding disease pathways based on genes, proteins and cell networks.

Scientists have devised methods to uncover exactly how chemicals disrupt normal biological processes at the molecular and cellular levels, and then use state-of-the-art computational and robotic tools to predict risks of the chemicals on people. These enable faster testing at lower cost. National institutes in the U.S. can screen up to 1,000 chemicals that cause cancer in 200 different robot-automated human cell and gene tests in just two weeks.

A similar study undertaken on rats and mice would take years. Alternative techniques cut down the uncertainties that scientists encounter in animal experiments. Moreover, modern tools will significantly reduce the number of animals used in experiments.

The India story

India has made a very good start by banning animal testing in the development of cosmetics. Inspired by India, China proposed to follow suit. Regulatory boards in India do not get rewarded for innovation and this is the right time for scientific, corporate and regulatory communities to start seriously investing on using alternative models and do away with animal testing.

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