Barney Reed, Principal Scientific Director of the Department of Animals in Science at the RSPCA, stresses the need for ambitious strategies to phase out the use of animals in science
In April, a new public poll (1) showed that 77% of EU citizens want to see clear plans for a transition to science “without using animals”. The European Parliament has also requested it. (2) The sentiment is mirrored in the UK, where 8 in 10 adults agree that more needs to be done to accelerate the development and uptake of alternatives to animal testing and that the government should “commit to” eliminating progressively “the use of animals in scientific experiments”. research and testing. » (3)
The use of animals in science continues to be an important issue, with great public interest around the world. Although the debate on this poignant topic can sometimes polarize into simplistic “for” or “against” arguments, the issues at stake are complex.
Animals are used in experiments for many different purposes, and each raises specific animal welfare, ethical and scientific issues. But, ultimately, we believe that everyone should be able to agree on whether to reach a point where the science is done without causing pain, suffering, distress or lasting harm to sensitive animals.
Challenging the status quo of animals in science
Each year, more than 100 million animals are used in research and testing worldwide. While there are examples of the use of animals leading to benefits for the understanding of certain diseases and the development of therapies, there is also growing recognition of the significant scientific limitations of many animal “models” and tests.
The EPAA, a collaboration between the European Commission and industry partners, recognizes (4) that “the translational and predictive value of animal studies is increasingly being debated and questioned in the public, scientific and regulatory community. “.
While in the UK, a report from six key organizations associated with government funding of science pointed out (5) that “there is growing recognition among business and regulators of the limitations of preclinical models, including animal models, and the need for more predictive approaches”. (6)
Changing scientific approaches
There is a growing appetite to do things differently. In recent years, encouraging progress has been made in developing some of the needed non-animal technologies (NATs) and new approach methodologies (NAMs).
New technological advances offer growing potential to replace the current use of animals in specific tests, steps or areas of research. For example, advanced in vitro models, such as organs on a chip (7) and organoids, are increasingly available in biomedical research. An increasing number of approaches that avoid the use of animals are being introduced to assess the safety of chemicals. (8) This has raised ambitions about what might be possible in the future to help reduce animal use, while simultaneously accelerating and increasing the success and reducing the cost of scientific research. But how to progress faster?
A rise in the market for alternative tests
We are now seeing clear statements of intent in several countries that see real benefits in leading the pack in this area. And not just for scientific and animal welfare reasons – the global market for alternative non-animal testing, which is growing every year, is expected to be worth around $2.6 billion by 2026. (9)
The European Commission has clearly stated that it shares the belief “that animal testing should be phased out in Europe” (10), stressing that EU legislation “sets an end goal of complete replacement of all animals used for scientific and educational purposes and takes concrete actions towards this objective”. (11)
The Netherlands has defined a “transition program for innovation without the use of animals” (12) and the German coalition government has declared (13) that it will “present a strategy for the reduction of animal experiments” and “ will intensify research on alternatives”. The UK Minister for Science, Innovation and Technology has stated (14) “…although I don’t think we are yet at the point where we can completely move away from animal dependency, I make it very clear that we have to go faster. We must reiterate to the public that this is our intention.”
And in the United States, the Environmental Protection Agency has stated (15) that it wants to eliminate by 2035 the use of mammalian species in the tests it undertakes and funds.
Actions, not just words, are needed to end animal testing
More and more organizations are committing to work towards replacing the use of animals in science entirely. It is not a question of “banning” or stopping important research; it’s about maximizing our opportunities to pioneer and adopt the advanced methods and approaches that will help solve the major health and environmental challenges of the 21st century.
But such ambitions must be accompanied by leadership and commitment to deliver them, with clear plans, the right investment and targeted support for people and infrastructure. Although this is behind the rhetoric, the landscape will not change fast enough.
In many cases, there are clearly real scientific hurdles to overcome.
For example, alternative methods may not currently be available. But there are also cultural issues around “the way science is currently practiced”, which means that even when there are alternatives, people can be slow to accept them – sometimes because they don’t know about them. do not or do not know how to use or access them.
Abandoning the use of animals in science and gradually introducing alternative approaches will require greater commitment and coordinated action from politicians; companies that produce new drugs or chemicals and the agencies that regulate them; organizations that fund science; and individual scientists. It is a challenge that I and millions of others hope to meet.
for example www.cpm.qmul.ac.uk/emulate
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