It has been a controversial procedure over the years: the use of animals in research and testing of products. There has been a strong push from many organizations and consumers to reduce or eliminate the need for animal testing.
Tens of millions of animals are killed or injured each year in research on the safety and effectiveness of new drugs, agricultural chemicals and consumer products.
High costs and questions about reliability have led to a shift away from animal testing. Companies said as much as 25 percent of products tested on animals failed to show side effects that proved serious later on. To prevent these oversights, products are tested on multiple species and large numbers of animals.
Since the 1970s, the number of research animals used in the United States has decreased by nearly 50 percent among the species tracked by the Department of Agriculture.
And the development of alternatives to animal testing may even further drop these numbers.
In-vitro tests using human cells have been progressing as an alternative. Companies sent $716 million last year for research in labs that specialize in alternative techniques to animal testing.
Companies like MatTek and Admet grow human tissues for testing from donor cells. The tissues take up to four weeks to grow in test kits. Up to three types of cells may be combined to produce realistic behavior.
To screen a drug, companies can charge up to $20,000 to test the drug against liver cells and other human tissues for side effects. If a drug company was to use research animals, the company would have to use a larger amount of the drug, wait a longer period of time and pay for the maintenance of the research animals.
Endosafe provides an alternative to the testing of solutions in rabbits’ eyes for contamination with fever-producing bacteria. The $5 test has replaced most rabbit testing in quality-control rooms at drug company factories.
Several big corporations are spending the money to shift away from animal testing. Procter & Gamble spent $225 million developing alternative testing methods over the past 20 years. L’Oreal has spent more than $800 million in that same time period.
European regulators are a source of motivation for European companies because they have set 2009 as a deadline for all animal testing on cosmetics. They are putting much pressure on the industry to develop alternatives to animal testing.
They are also requiring companies to provide safety data for about 30,000 chemicals over the next 11 years.
The European regulators and industries have a 10-year lead in transitioning to these alternatives compared to the United States. There are no government regulations to reduce or eliminate animal testing in the US.
Although a recent study done by the National Academy of Sciences concluded that over time, the use of animals for testing could be greatly reduced and possibly eliminated.
Source: New York Times