BBC Earth (Asia) - - Science -

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.”

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