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ECEAE scientists who attended the 17th Congress on Alternatives to Animal Testing in Austria have reported exciting developments and new techniques that have the potential to save thousands of animals.
One of the highlights of the conference so far has been the work carried out by chemical company BASF on alternative methods to skin sensitisation and eye irritation tests. In their first presentation, three in vitro methods for testing the skin sensitising potential of 56 chemicals were presented compared with data from the currently used and accepted animal test (the Local Lymph Node Assay in mice). They were able to conclude that a combination of the three methods gave an overall accuracy of 94% compared to the 89% accuracy of the LLNA. In another presentation by BASF scientists, alternative methods to eye irritation were tested including the use of a reconstructed human eye system called EpiOcular. In this study the ability to classify 50 chemicals against three different international classification systems was examined and compared to the cruel Draize test in rabbits. The EpiOcular model proved to be a useful predictor of eye irritation strength and we hope that this progress might lead to the full replacement and deletion of the animal tests in the very near future.
In another presentation, the use of non-human primates (NHPs) for the development of new drugs based on monoclonal antibodies was assessed. NHPs are currently used because it is thought that their similarity to humans makes them relevant to determine the safety and efficacy of a product. However, despite their ever increasing use, this study concluded that NHPs are not suitable for such tests because of species differences and the high number of inconclusive and poorly designed experiments. These results will be presented to the European Medicines Agency and hopefully convince them to re-evaluate the use of NHPs in these tests.
The ECEAE team was also excited to see that a company called Vitrocell has developed a new and innovative in vitro inhalation system where human cells isolated from lungs can be exposed to various gases including cigarette smoke, household products and pesticides. In the “smoking robot” system, up to 20 cigarettes can be used and the machine can even takes into account human puff profiles! Other exciting non-animal models we saw included human-on-a-chip systems which are now able to include up to six different cell types in a single chip; another model based on the isolation of kidney cells from human urine could provide a non-invasive method to study kidney disease and produce stem cells for research.
Finally, ECEAE scientists had the opportunity to witness an animated discussion from experts about the lengthy and complex process of validating new methods to replace animals and what the main hurdles are. Currently lots of money is spent on the research and development of new non-animal models leaving no money left over to fund validation studies. This means that new methods struggle to actually replace animal tests because they have not been validated
It was concluded that change needs to happen in this area; governments need to take more responsibility for funding and more attention must go into the validation process before we can expect to see a faster turnover between the invention of exciting new models like the ones reported in Austria and the reduction of animal tests.