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Besides saving countless animal lives, alternatives to animal tests are efficient and reliable. Unlike crude, archaic animal tests, non-animal methods usually take less time to complete, cost only a fraction of what the animal experiments they replace cost, and are not plagued with species differences that make extrapolation difficult or impossible. Effective, affordable, and humane research methods include studies of human populations, volunteers, and patients, as well as sophisticated in vitro, genomic, and computer-modeling techniques.
Forward-thinking companies are exploring modern alternatives. For example, Pharmagene Laboratories, based in Royston, England, is the first company to use only human tissues and sophisticated computer technologies in the process of drug development and testing. With tools from molecular biology, biochemistry, and analytical pharmacology, Pharmagene conducts extensive studies of human genes and how drugs affect those genes or the proteins they make. While some companies have used animal tissues for this purpose, Pharmagene scientists believe that the discovery process is much more efficient with human tissues. “If you have information on human genes, what’s the point of going back to animals?” says Pharmagene cofounder Gordon Baxter.(1)
Alternatives for Research
Comparative studies of human populations allow doctors and scientists to discover the root causes of human diseases and disorders so that preventive action can be taken. Epidemiological studies led to the discoveries of the relationship between smoking and cancer and to the identification of heart disease risk factors.(2) Population studies also demonstrated the mechanism of the transmission of AIDS and other infectious diseases and also showed how these diseases can be prevented.(3)
In the course of treating patients, much has been learned about the causes of diseases and disorders. Studies of human patients using sophisticated scanning technology (e.g., MRI, PET, and CT) have isolated abnormalities in the brains of patients with schizophrenia and other disorders.(4)
Cell and tissue culture (in vitro) studies are used to screen for anti-cancer, anti-AIDS, and other types of drugs, and they are also a means of producing and testing a number of other pharmaceutical products, including vaccines, antibiotics, and therapeutic proteins. The U.S. National Disease Research Interchange provides more than 120 types of human tissue to scientists investigating diabetes, cancer, cystic fibrosis, muscular dystrophy, glaucoma, and other human diseases.(5) In vitro genetic research has isolated specific markers, genes, and proteins associated with Alzheimer’s disease, muscular dystrophy, schizophrenia, and other inherited diseases.
Those who experiment on animals artificially induce disease; clinical investigators study people who are already ill or who have died. Animal experimenters want a disposable “research subject” who can be manipulated as desired and killed when convenient; clinicians must do no harm to their patients or study participants. Animal experimenters face the unavoidable fact that their artificially created “animal model” can never fully reflect the human condition, whereas clinical investigators know that the results of their work are directly relevant to people.
Alternatives for Testing
Alternatives to the use of animals in toxicity testing include replacing animal tests with non-animal methods, as well as modifying animal-based tests to reduce the number of animals used and to minimize pain and distress. Non-animal tests are generally faster and less expensive than the animal tests they replace and improve upon.
To date, several non-animal test methods have been formally validated and accepted by some countries as replacements for an existing animal test. Examples include:
For more detailed information about non-animal test methods that are available or under development, visit ECVAM.jrc.it.
Alternatives for Education
The majority of medical schools in the United States, including Harvard, Stanford, and Yale, have replaced their use of live animals in physiology, pharmacology, and/or surgical-training exercises with humane and effective non-animal teaching methods, including observation of actual human cardiac bypass surgery, patient simulators, cadavers, sophisticated computer programs, and more.
In addition to being more humane, non-animal teaching tools such as computer simulations, multimedia CD-ROMs, and models are also more economical than traditional animal-based teaching exercises.(9) Whereas the “traditional” approach involves the acquisition and disposal of animals on an ongoing basis, purchasing a set of CD-ROMs represents a one-time expenditure for a product that can be used repeatedly for many years. Schools can save tens of thousands of dollars each year by implementing re-usable replacements for animal “specimens.”
Studies have shown that non-animal teaching methods are as effective as older, less humane methods. For example:
Several Web sites provide descriptions, prices, and ordering information for thousands of alternative learning materials. Following are two excellent databases that focus specifically on alternatives in education:
The following animal protection organizations have established “alternatives loan” programs for students who need to borrow a non-animal software program or other teaching tool in order to satisfy a course requirement without having to bear the financial burden of purchasing the product:
What You Can Do
Virtually all federally funded research is paid for with your tax dollars. Two of the main funders of animal-based research in North America, the U.S. National Institutes of Health and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, need to hear that you don’t want your tax dollars used to underwrite animal experiments, whatever their purpose.
Write to the heads of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Food and Drug Administration, National Toxicology Program, and Health Canada and urge them to stop requiring cruel and obsolete animal tests for pharmaceuticals and allow companies to substitute in vitro tests.
Whether you are a student, a parent, or a concerned taxpayer, you can act to end the use of animals in your city’s education system. If you are expected to perform or observe a dissection, talk to your teacher as early as possible about alternative projects. Call the Dissection Hotline at 1-800-922-FROG (3764) for tips on what to say and how to proceed. If there is an animal rights group at your school or in your community, ask them to help. Parents can urge their local Parent-Teacher Association to ask the area superintendent of schools or school board to consider a proposal to ban animal-based teaching exercises in public schools or at least give all students the option of doing a non-animal project. It may help to collect signatures on a petition and to present the school board with information on the cruelty of animal-based teaching exercises and on readily available alternatives.
If you own stock in a company that conducts animal tests, introduce a shareholder resolution opposing the use of animals.
Help remind shoppers to spend that cash with compassion in mind.