Alternatives to animal experiments

2017-10-16 17:00 #0 by: vendelay

Information about animal testing and animal-free alternatives.


Research is needed to gain knowledge about and to develop better treatments for various diseases and disabilities. In order for this research to be animal-free, research funding for the researchers using animal-free methods is required. In 2006, the animal protection authority in Sweden provided 16.5 million SEK for the development of alternative methods for animal testing and 2 million SEK for projects to improve the conditions of the experimental animals. At the change of the government, the appropriation was changed to 8 million SEK in 2008. After protests, the appropriation was raised for 2009 to reach 13 million SEK. AstraZeneca contributed 1 billion SEK annually between 2010-2014. The responsibility for allocating the money has the Scientific Council. At the Scientific Council's distribution of appropriations in 2014, the money was allocated to grant 7 research projects of 61 applications.

Compare this with the industry and state budget for research amounting to several billion SEK annually. 40 million SEK from the government and other public investments was calculated to research in 2015 and the business sector's research budget was estimated to 85.9 billion SEK in 2013. In addition, private funds, foundations and fundraising organizations (eg patient associations) gives out more than 2.3 billion SEK for research. Most of these amounts probably go to animal experiments. This may be something to consider when you want to donate money to any charitable purposes. The Research Foundation without Animal Testing (in Swedish: Forska Utan Djurförsök) provides approximately 1.5 million SEK to researchers who do not use animal experiments in their research.

The Swedish state defines alternative methods according to the 3R principle, which means that you can support other options than replacing animal experiments. The 3 R's stands for replace, reduce and refine. Replace means that animal testing is replaced with animal-free methods. Reduce means that the number of animals is reduced in an animal experiment through, for example, better research. Refine means, for example, to reduce the suffering for the animals by giving them pain relief and better animal husbandry.

2 R's have been added. It is Reject and Redirect resources. Reject means rejecting animal experiments that are of no public interest or are so badly planned that they can not provide interesting information. Redirect resources involve redistributing resources so that research that promotes disease prevention is supported instead of research aimed at curing them. The last two are not included in the state definition. Two British researchers coined the concept of 3R in 1959 in a book on how animal welfare in research can be improved.

In 2011, the government instructed the State Farming Agency, the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (National Center for Animal Welfare) and the Swedish Research Council to draw up a proposal for how future work on alternative animal experiments under the 3R principle should be pursued. The mission was due to the incorporation of the European Union Directive 2010/63 on the protection of animals used for scientific purposes in Sweden. In 2012, the government was commissioned by the government to commence work on the establishment of a competence center for 3R issues.

No additional funds are allocated to the center, but should be accommodated within the existing budget. However, the investigator considers that it is necessary to invest 5 million SEK in 2016 to start operations and then 10 million SEK / year for operations. In the government's spring budget for 2016 there is no funding for the 3R center.

The Center will provide support to animal welfare ethics councils by providing knowledge, education and support in alternative methods. The center is proposed to have 5 employees and placed under the unit for experimental animals and pet animals at Jönköping Farms. It will be led by a board of 6 members and a chairman who will also become the head of the center. The board shall have an Expert Group at its disposal. There will be different skills represented.

Instead of animal experiments

Some animal experiments can already be replaced by animal-free methods. These alternatives are:

Cell and tissue cultures
Lower standing organisms (such as bacteria, yeast, algae, fungi and plants)
Chemical and biological analysis methods
Computer and other models
Try on people and dolls

Cell and tissue cultures

Cells, tissues and organs can be kept alive outside the body and used in research. These can be taken at eg. operations. The development of cell models is rapid and increases the ability to replace animal experiments. Today, cell models are used to test chemicals and different products. Even in research on diseases like cancer, diabetes and rheumatism, cell models are used. Cultivated skin is used in wound healing and allergy research. In the early stages of drug production, cell models are used, even in the manufacture of antiviral and parasitic drugs and how drugs are taken up through the intestine. Cell cultures are used to produce different biological products such as vaccine, insulin and antibodies for research and in quality control of vaccine instead of in mice.

Being able to breed stem cells and control their development against different cell types opens many opportunities to develop better cell tests and cell models in the future.

Methodology is being developed in order to grow entire organs for use in transplantation. These bodies could also be used in research. Already, you can combine some cell types to create tissue-like models to use in research.

Lower standing organisms

One example is Ames test where salmonella bacteria are used to check whether a substance can be carcinogenic. With recombinant DNA technology, we can make the bacteria produce the desired protein that develops in the culture fluid. With this technique, for example, hormones, vaccines and other biologically active substances are manufactured. Insulin has been manufactured for many years in this way. Recombinant means that DNA bits are combined in new ways using genetic engineering.

Chemical and biological analysis methods

Some examples of this are pH measurement and protein response. The pH test may in some cases replace animal testing by indicating whether a substance is irritating to skin and eyes. Irritection Assay System is a physicochemical method for measuring eye and skin irritation.

The satin check that takes place in the manufacture of insulin is another example. Today, a chemical analysis method, HPLC (high performance liquid chromatography), which is both animal-free and more reliable than previous animal tests, is used.

Some substances can be analyzed by immunological methods such as radioimmunoassay (RIA) or enzyme linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA). These highly sensitive antibody-based methods can detect and measure the amount of different biologically active substances such as hormones, vaccines and toxins. Insulin and glucagon preparations can be determined by homogenized liver cells. Recently, a new method was approved to test if chemicals risk causing allergies. The method is not yet comprehensive but can, along with cell-based tests, replace many animal lifes.

Computer and other models

With computer models, the researcher can make mathematical calculation models and simulation programs that can be used in the education. Dissections and biological processes can be simulated in the computer. The computer can also be used instead of animal testing in the evaluation of chemicals and drug development. You can practise operations in virtual reality programs. SNIFFY is a computer simulation program used to study behavior and learning. There are computer-based models of biochemical and physiological processes in the body such as circulatory and respiratory system models, models of how drugs break down into the body and a virtual heart.

Computer models are still only at the beginning of their development. There is great confidence in the EU regarding the possibilities of using computer models to make an initial rough assessment of the toxicity of chemicals.

Try on people and dolls

Advanced technology dolls can replace animal experiments in education and crash tests. Pigs or monkeys are no longer used. Trauma training is another use with dolls. Simulation techniques with models for training surgery are available at some teaching hospitals. Latex rats and PVC models of animals can be used for dissections or for practicing techniques such as siphoning, blood sampling and injection.

Volunteers can replace animal testing in research and testing of new products. Permission from the humanitarian committee is required in these attempts. Safety testing of cosmetics is often done on humans. New drugs are tested on volunteer subjects before it can be registered and sold. A test method based on human blood is used instead of rabbits to test so that drugs to be injected are not infected with bacteria or fungi that can cause fever in the patient. Research uses both healthy and diseased cells, tissues and organs from humans. Clinical studies on healthy and diseased people can provide knowledge about disease causes. Epidemiological studies can provide important knowledge about the causes of ill health.

Visualization techniques such as computer tomography (as organ imaging), magnetic x-ray and functional magnetic x-ray (where you can follow organ progression), positron camera (PET that can be used to study brain function), allows you to study both normal body functions and diseases directly in human beings.

Studies on the deceased can provide information about diseases. Donated organs from the deceased are used to a limited extent in research. An advantage is that the information you get is directly relevant to human knowledge, which is not always the case with the animal tests.

Scientific criticism

In more than 50 % of cases, tests fail to predict the effects on humans in animal studies. There are many differences between animals and humans that complicate the translation of the results from animal experiments into what is happening in the human body. Animal-free methods are needed to make research more reliable. When using human cells and tissues, you get more relevant results than with animals. Animal experiments are no necessary pain. Many animal experiments have been replaced with modern animal-free methods over the years. A research group developed a cell model to study intake of drug in the intestine, and then developed computer simulation models for faster evaluation of new drugs. These methods have now replaced many animal experiments at pharmaceutical companies. Toxicity tests on animals was considered impossible to replace 5-10 years ago. Today more and more animal tests are replaced by animal-free methods. In addition, these methods have proven to be both faster, cheaper and more reliable. Sometimes alternative methods have been used as a supplement before it has shown its value and animal experiments have ceased. Using animals as biological plants calls for infections. Using materials from animals or substances produced in animals poses a risk of spreading both known and unknown infections.

To develop alternatives to animal experiments

It takes a long time to develop and evaluate new tests and research methods. This costs a lot of money. In order to replace the animal experiments we still do today, more research and development of new methods and techniques is needed. This requires money.

In order for a test method to be approved and introduced in the OECD Test Guidelines, ECVAM approval is required, which is the EU Center for Validation of Animal Testing Alternatives or ICCVAM, which is an American equivalent. This process can take 10-15 years. New animal-free methods need to be spread in the research community and to others who may be concerned. This is done through scientific publications, at conferences and via databases. On Research without animal testing website there are addresses for databases including: NORICA or Eurca.

However, all animal experiments do not need to be replaced. There are animal tests that are not vital and which are very painful. They should not occur when legislation states that animal testing should not be used when animal-free methods exist, that the experiment is not of public interest and that the animals are not exposed to greater suffering than is necessary.


When I write about alternatives to animal experiments, I mean animal-free methods just like Research without animal testing and Animal Rights (Swedish organisation called Djurens Rätt in Swedish). The 3 R's (see above) are a step in the right direction, but considering them as an alternative to animal testing is not entirely correct, especially not "refine", which is not about eliminating animal testing at all.

According to the legislation in Sweden and the other EU countries, animal testing can not be carried out if there are alternatives. In this way, the animal-free options are no alternative but the only ones allowed. However, it takes time for a new method, model or technique to be evaluated, published, disseminated and sometimes modified to replace animal experiments.

Concepts commonly used are "in vivo", "in vitro" and "in silico".

In vitro, "in glass" means test tube methods as cell culture. Today, the cells are grown in plastic but the concept remains. In vitro methods are not always animal-free. The cells may come from animals killed for this purpose.

In vivo means "in the living" and usually means animal experiments. It can also be an attempt on volunteers. Ex vivo means that the animal is sacrificed and the studies continue on cells, tissues and organs of the animal.

In silico means "in silicon" and involves the use of computer models or simulation.

Animal attempts replaced by alternative methods

Today, pregnancy tests take place with a test stick bought in the store. Before the 60's pregnancy tests were done on rabbits by injecting urine into them and cut them open after 2 days.

In the field of wound and burn injury research, animal testing has been limited by use cultured human skin.

Cancer research largely uses cellular methods.

In drug production, cell and computer models are used to a certain extent.

Cells manipulated with RNA interference can replace certain attempts on genetically modified mice.

Toxicity tests that are very painful to the animals have to some extent been replaced by cell methods (the MEIC project).

Instead of using monkeys in the production of polio vaccine, cells are now used.

For the production of feline vaccine, no cats, but cells are used today.

Within the education there are many options for animal testing. There should not be animal testing. Computer simulation, animals who died naturally or carcasses from slaughterhouses, attracts or dolls and cell models are some options.

Insulin is now produced and tested by growing bacteria or yeast instead of dogs or pigs. Monoclonal antibodies can be prepared by alternative methods without plaguing mice.

Sources (the sources used are almost all in Swedish but I'll link some similar ones in English) and more information:
Research without Animal Testing (also check the links to the left)
Cruelty Free International
Leaping Bunny (find cruelty free options)

This text is written by a user on iFokus (Swedish Savvity) called sighni.

2017-10-17 09:43 #1 by: Niklas

Wow, that was interesting. Thank you!

2017-10-17 10:22 #2 by: vendelay

#1 Thank you for reading, thank Sighni för writing this and thank me for translating it Laughing

2017-10-17 10:23 #3 by: Niklas

And thank you for bringing it here. :-)

2017-10-17 10:26 #4 by: vendelay

Thumbs up


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