WHY DO WE STILL TEST ON ANIMALS?
No matter how good the alternatives to animal testing get, it’s unlikely to be eradicated.
“There are certain things you cannot easily test without animals,” says toxicologist Prof
Thomas Hartung. This includes studies on psychiatric disorders in which tracking a behavioural change is important, or studies of conditions where regions of a particular organ are affected differently, such as tuberculosis. And even though stem cell technologies are improving fast, they still have some major limitations. Some cell types that are important in disease are difficult to produce, for example.
And even linking up human stem cell models representing several organs doesn’t reveal a drug’s response to a living, breathing organism. These systems are simply not well-enough developed for wide-scale use. “In the end, our quest is to give the right answer regarding a medicine’s safety and efficacy,” says Roche Pharmaceuticals’ Thomas Singer. “We are agnostic as to whether an animal model or an alternative model would be best.”
One hold-up in moving to alternatives is the fact that countries have different rules for when or whether animal tests are needed for a product to be sold. Even if a cell culture test for a certain pesticide has been accepted in one country as better than an older animal test, companies that plan to sell it in countries where this test is not accepted must do the animal tests. “You can develop a [non-animal] method, get it validated, and get it used, in every country but one,” says Dr Amy Clippinger, associate director of PETA’s International Science Consortium. “And if companies want to sell in that country, you will see no reduction in animal use.”
For such regulatory matters, says Hartung, decreasing animal use will to some extent depend on a changing of the guard. “There are still too many people who overestimate the value of animal tests,” he says. “Some things will change one retirement at a time.”