New Technologies Could Eliminate the Need for Animal Experimentation
Andrew Rowan is the chief executive officer of Humane Society International (HSI) and chief scientific officer of the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS).
Recent technological advances have greatly reduced the need for animal testing. Given the current rate of technological advance, it is possible that by 2050 researchers will be able to answer important questions about the functioning of healthy and diseased human tissues without subjecting animals to harmful procedures.
The US National Academy of Sciences [NAS] released a report in 2007 envisioning a future in which animals would largely disappear from toxicity testing programs. The report, drafted by a panel of experts, proposed that toxicity induced by drugs, food additives, pesticides, and other chemicals be assessed not by observing overt clinical signs in animals but by monitoring perturbations to biological pathways in cultured human cells. Sophisticated bioinformatic technologies could then provide risk predictions that overcome the limitations of animal-based methods, such as low throughput and the questionable relevance of animal results to human physiology. Initially, the report was greeted with skepticism, but that skepticism is giving way to guarded excitement.
In response to the NAS report, the Environmental Protection Agency [EPA], the National Institutes of Health [NIH], the National Toxicology Program [NTP], and the US Food and Drug Administration [FDA] are cooperating to develop new technologies to modernize chemical testing. Former NIH director Elias Zerhouni characterized this effort as the beginning of the end of animal testing.
A Fraction of the Time, a Fraction of the Cost
We at The Humane Society of the United States and Humane Society International helped establish a consortium in 2009 to promote the need for a coordinated international program of research and development (akin to the Human Genome Project) to implement the NAS vision. We believe that within the next decade or so, we will reach a point where safety testing and risk evaluation of chemicals will be conducted in a fraction of the time, at a fraction of the cost, and with greater predictive relevance for human and environmental safety compared to current, cumbersome animal-based approaches. The initiative has already attracted the attention of many industry partners, including Dow, DuPont, ExxonMobil, Johnson & Johnson, L’Oreal, Procter & Gamble, and Unilever.
The movement away from animal experimentation is alrea