Q: What humane testing methods exist in place of animal testing?
A: It still surprises many people to learn that non-animal testing methods are not only more ethical, they are also more applicable to human health. The differences in biology, chemistry and physiology mean that research conducted on animals doesn't always translate effectively to humans. As more researchers realize this, they are turning to some of the following methods:
Selective formulation Choosing previously tested ingredients to create new products eliminates the need for further testing. Many manufacturers follow this principle in planning their product lines.
Human cultures Epiderm and EpiSkin are human skin cells grown in test tubes that are layered to mimic the structure of human skin. Cosmetics and household products can be tested on these rather than the skin of live rabbits. Corrositex is another test-tube option that gives an easy-to-read color change reaction to a hazardous product. And EpiOcular, a mass of skin cells specially grown to form a thin layer like that of the human cornea, has the potential to completely replace the cruel rabbit eye irritancy test.
Skin cultures taken by permission during surgical procedures (such as breast-reduction surgery) can be used to test whether a chemical can pass through the skin and be a potential poison risk.
Surgical specimens are also the main source of human tissues available from the National Disease Research Interchange (NDRI) in Philadelphia. This non-profit tissue bank makes more than 100 types of human tissues available for medical research. NDRI, along with Asterand, a company with offices in the US, UK and Japan that supplies human biomaterials for research, has made it easier than ever for companies to access human cells for testing.
The physiological chip Just as a microchip holds an intricate system of electronic connections, this 1x1-inch square of cultured cells is made up of cell compartments that are linked by a lifelike circulatory system that mimics the complex functions of the human body. The chips, developed by the Hµrel Corporation in Beverly Hills, CA, can be used to test for harmful (and beneficial) effects of experimental drugs, as well as toxicity of the liver and other organs.
Cellular tests Experiments that measure white blood cell response to chemicals and medical substances can be used in place of rabbit injections. These tests check for unexpected fever and inflammation—especially from receiving intravenous medications. The European Union just approved the use of five of these tests.
Bacteria-based tests performed on common microbes such as salmonella can be used to assess whether chemicals can damage DNA, and therefore present a cancer risk.
Microdosing Minuscule amounts of a test substance—much smaller than a typical dose used for medical purposes—are given to human volunteers so that researchers can track how the substances are transported and absorbed throughout the body.
Q: How do I know what products out there have been tested on animals?
A: Companies are not required to label their products to refl ect whether they have been tested on animals. But those that do not practice animal testing often print “cruelty-free,” “not tested on animals” and even "vegan" on their labels. Look for products with the V logo (for “certified vegan,” you can check it out at vegan.org) or the leaping bunny stamp of approval (leapingbunny.org).
Q: What will it take for companies to stop animal testing for good?
A: Pharmaceutical manufacturers are particularly reluctant to deviate from standard test procedures because animal tests have been the path to regulatory approval of their products with a minimum of liability. But the Vioxx scandal showed that animal tests are far from a guarantee of safety. (Vioxx was the anti-inflammatory approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that was later found to increase the risk of heart attack and stroke; it was subsequently pulled from the market.)
What’s more, the Environmental Protection Agency, the FDA and other agencies remain decidedly loyal to decades-old animal tests. Progress will come as legislators pressure these agencies to modernize the testing processes and as stockholders of major drug manufacturers bring resolutions that move the companies away from animal testing.
Ultimately, the recognition that animal testing is cruel, inaccurate and unnecessary will win the day, and benefit both the welfare of animals and scientific progress.