Animal testing is used around the world – mainly for educational and scientific advancements. Although it can be beneficial (for the institutions), it is often inhumane and threatens basic animal rights. Luckily, there are several alternatives to animal testing that we can utilize instead.
The most prevalent animal testing alternatives are computer models, cell and tissue cultures, HPS, and even human volunteers. For educational institutions, the ideal alternative option is the use of human-patient simulators when possible. There are also some instances where alternative organisms like fungi and protists can be used.
Incorporating these alternatives can really limit the number of animals we test on worldwide. Read on to learn more about how each of these alternative testing methods would work and their benefits. We'll also look at why most nations haven't transitioned away from animal testing despite the availability of these alternatives.
What Are the Alternative Options for Animal Testing?
Contrary to belief, animal testing isn't the only option for companies and institutions to ensure product safety and advance scientific and educational knowledge. Oh yes – there are far more cost-effective, time-efficient, and humane options out there. Each one renders these cruel and outdated animal testing methods unnecessary.
Thanks to modern technology and innovations, there are several optimal alternative options to animal testing that any institution or company could utilize. Here are the top alternatives we've found, their uses, and their overall benefits.
Computer technology has advanced a great deal in the past two decades – to the point where researchers can now use advanced computer models to simulate human biology. This is particularly used to understand the progression and development of known and new diseases.
These models, paired with advanced computer software, can also help scientist develop new medicines. They can determine potential biological and toxic effects of a tested substance or product without referring to test results from a living being.
This is extremely beneficial to the world of animal testing. It eradicates the necessity of animals for safety testing of standard drug tests and exploratory research. Both of which are responsible for a significant number of overall tests conducted in nations worldwide.
There are several innovative and invaluable software and computer-based techniques utilized in this alternative form of testing.
Use of the CADD Software
Researchers use the Computer-Aided Drug Design (CADD) software to accurately predict the effectiveness of a drug within the body and limit the testing of unnecessary chemicals that have no biological benefits.
Although it would be ideal for this alternative to replace animal testing, there are cases where it can slowly be incorporated into an institution as the form of preliminary testing. This is mainly to confirm a potential drug is safe.
Even if it doesn’t completely eradicate animal testing, it will significantly reduce the number of animals used overall.
The Quantitative structure-activity relationships (QSARs) Technique
The quantitative structure-activity relationships (QSARs) are computer-based techniques that are highly influential in the world of drug and product testing. They make sophisticated estimates of how hazardous a substance is likely to be.
The QSARs reduce the necessity of testing chemicals with unknown biological effects on animals. This method is also much more time-efficient and is relatively inexpensive versus the care needed for test animals.
In Vitro and Ex Vivo Testing
There are two ways that cells and tissue can be acquired and used in cultures for animal testing alternatives, in vitro and ex vivo.
In vitro directly translates to "in glass". Basically, it means that biological matter, such as cells and tissue, are used for experimentation outside of a living organism. In most cases, these experiments are conducted in a glass instrument, like a petri dish.
The cells and tissue used for in vitro experimentation can be created or grown artificially. This is the main difference that separates it from the ex vivo experiments, where the cells or tissue are directly acquired from a living being.
In vitro and ex vivo testing are highly influential alternatives to animal testing, but in vitro cell and tissue cultures arguably are the most ethical, effective, and useful option.
In Vitro Cell and Tissue Cultures Testing
To conduct these experiments, various cells or tissues, typically human, are placed into a controlled environment for a set time. This could be a few days or as long as months.
During this time, the isolated cells will grow independently from each other and can be used for various purposes, such as determining the toxicity and efficacy of potential drug molecules/chemicals through preliminary screenings.
Because the cells used for these experiments mimic the structure and function of human organs and/or organ systems, researchers can more accurately determine the potential side effects of new chemicals and substances without exposing them to a living test subject first.
Examples of cell cultures
One of the most compelling examples of this alternative is the use cultures from a cow’s cornea to replace the Draize test. In a three-week period, this culture allows testers to determine if a product could cause eye irritation in humans versus.
This is so much more humane than the standard Draize test, which directly places the foreign substance in an animal's eye. Rabbits are most frequently used here. And the facts can’t be ignored – this form of experimentation is typically very painful for the animal, time-consuming, and involves a significant amount of resources since a new animal must be used for every test.
And this is just one example of how these in vitro tests can eradicate crude and unnecessary animal tests. For example, MatTek Life Sciences uses the EpiDerm™ Tissue Model, which reflects the previously mentioned example to replace rabbits in eye irritancy experimentation.
VITROCELL, a German-based manufacturer, has created several devices that allow them to expose human lung cells to chemicals through in vitro testing to determine potential health side effects of inhaled substances.
The results would be so beneficial to research on cigarette smoking as well as modern alternatives like e-cigarettes – or even unintentionally inhaled substances like pesticides.
This form of experimentation can eliminate the need for testing toxic substances on rodents through forced tube inhalation while in a confined space. Not only is this type of experiment highly uncomfortable for the animal, but it can also have various negative mental and physical side-effects. Sometimes the test is conducted for hours on end until the animal is eventually killed.
Although some tests will take longer using in vitro testing than animal testing because the cultures must grow and react, they are far more humane than the painful, uncomfortable, and potentially fatal tests conducted on animals.
Not too long ago, The Humane Society released an award-winning animated short film featuring stars like Zac Efron. The point of the video was to get the chilling facts about animal testing across and we think it’s definitely worth a watch. Read on here for the link: 10 Facts About Animal Testing You Need to Know (2021)
Another prominent alternative to animal testing is the use of human volunteers through a method known as microdosing.
The goal of microdosing is to introduce an experimental drug into the system of a human being in a small one-time dose to ascertain how it metabolizes through the body and what the potential effect would be on a larger scale when the dosage is increased.
The dosage is so low that they are unlikely to cause a "whole body" effect to the human volunteer. Still, enough is introduced to incite a cellular response monitored through sophisticated imaging techniques.
Microsdosing allows testers to determine which chemical, substance, and potential medications are compatible with the human body through directly testing it on the human system so they can skip the step of testing it on animals first entirely.
Another way that human volunteers can be utilized versus animal testing is by monitoring the progression and effects of a particular treatment or disease through brain imaging.
Significant technological advancements have resulted in highly efficient brain imaging machines that allow researchers to get an accurate, in-depth look into a patient's brain functions and structures. These instruments are monumentally influential in many fields but play a significant role in microdosing experiments as well.
Not only can researchers test potential treatments on consenting patients and track their effects through their brain scans, but they can also induce temporary and reversible brain disorders using transcranial magnetic stimulation. The results of these experiments are invaluable to understanding how the brain functions, what causes certain disorders, and how or if they can be treated.
A significant number of tests conducted on animals are actually intended for educational purposes and run by institutions such as colleges or training programs within hospitals and other similar facilities.
Although these tests are typically non-invasive, it doesn't mean humanity shouldn't strive to use alternatives when applicable to limit as much animal testing as possible.
Researchers can reduce the number of animals used in educational tests by utilizing human-patient simulators (HPS) instead.
These advanced pieces of technology are often used in healthcare settings where nurses, doctors, and other similar professions are taught how an actual human would react when faced with various physical ailments and traumas.
An exceptional example of an HPS is the TraumaMan simulator, which is an anatomically correct, computerized HPS that can simulate various human functions and reactions, such as:
TraumaMan is typically used to allow students to test surgical procedures, but it can ultimately be used in various healthcare training environments. In addition to HPS, many institutions now use virtual reality technology, computer simulations, and other animal testing alternatives to supplement their teachings for accurate, hands-on learning.
Although several countries, such as the U.S., Canada, and India, have completely incorporated HSA technology into their institutional training, many nations still permit the use of animals instead.
In fact, both the U.S. and Canada fall within the top 5 countries that test on animals the most. But for the full list of countries that are still to animals, read on here: What Countries Are Cruel to Animals in 2021?
This means students will dissect or practice procedures on animals that are most anatomically similar to humans to have first-hand practice before assisting human patients. Sometimes these animals are deceased before these experiments, while in other instances, they are alive for a more accurate experience. Whether the animal is permitted anesthetics or lives beyond the procedure varies.
The technology used for HPS can be costly. But as they become increasingly accurate in their anatomy and responsiveness, they quickly make the use of animals in professional tests and experiments utterly unnecessary, and in most cases, outdated.
For the most part, animal testing is conducted on sentient beings, typically higher model vertebrates, such as guinea pigs, rats, monkeys, rabbits, and others. The fact that these animals can feel pain, pleasure and experience mental, physical, and emotional distress renders them a less than ideal candidate for testing potentially harmful or even fatal products and medications.
However, many researchers argue that there is no way to accurately determine the effects of these chemicals and substances without introducing them to a living being's system reflects humans.
Although many don't support animal testing methods, it is widely agreed that human testing, particularly on unwilling hosts, is highly unethical. Fortunately, there are ways to introduce these substances to a living creature without being human or sentient.
It might not be the most common alternative, but there have been proposals to use alternative organisms to replace animal testing.
Many of these organisms can advance human understanding of molecular and genetic studies and cellular differentiation. While most of these alternative organisms would be used for research purposes rather than testing medical or cosmetic products, there are still viable options for animal testing.
Limitation to Pre-Approved Ingredients for Products
This option might not come to mind immediately when debating animal testing alternatives, but it is certainly viable.
Throughout countless years of experimentation and research, there is a long list of chemicals, substances, and ingredients that have been approved and deemed safe for human use in a multitude of products and medications.
Although there are certainly benefits to testing new chemicals and substances, especially for medical purposes, there are circumstances where it is simply unnecessary. Companies could easily opt for using ingredients already proven to be safe and don't require any form of additional testing, animal or otherwise.
However, many companies will continue to test the boundaries of product ingredients, often for cost or to create a more competitive or effective product. In reality, a product made with pre-approved ingredients would be just as beneficial and eliminate the necessity of additional testing.
This could substantially diminish the number of animals subjected to testing, particularly in the cosmetics industry, where companies reside in countries that don't officially ban this form of testing for cosmetic products.
There is certainly something to be said for expanding human knowledge, but there are many circumstances regarding animal testing where it just isn't necessary. Pre-approved ingredients are an option.
They would often save companies a vast amount of time, money, and resources they would waste on additional testing if they opted for a more unknown and innovative alternative.
Why Hasn't Animal Testing Been Replaced?
Despite the countless innovative and equally effective alternative methods to animal testing, the number of tests and experiments conducted with animal subjects has increased in many nations.
Considering the significant ethical issues surrounding animal testing, it can seem illogical that more animals would be used for research and experimentation despite more humane options being available.
So why aren't more nations transitioning more towards these alternatives and leaving animal testing behind?
Most people like to assume companies stick to animal testing to save money rather than purchasing pricy tools and equipment, like HPS or advanced computer software. In reality, animal testing is actually more expensive than these alternatives in most cases because companies and institutions must constantly care for the animal even during experimentation.
When they are not provided with life-sustaining care before testing, they are supplemented with proper medication and anesthetics during experiments, depending onits severity, to adhere to the principles of the 3R's and not cause unnecessary suffering to the animal.
The cost of care and medication for the vast number of animals used for testing quickly adds up and outweighs the cost of alternatives.
The true reason why animal testing is still applicable and widely used today is that the scientific community agrees that no alternative is as effective and accurate as animal testing that could ultimately replace this method.
Although the alternatives we have mentioned can come close to the results and insights of animal testing, they aren't enough to replace it altogether because they can't provide specific testing results on a living, whole-body system.
Many programs can make extremely insightful predictions, and microdosing might provide insight on potential effects on a small scale. Still, none of these can truly reveal the effect of new medications or products on a scale as large as a human's entire biological system.
Until an alternative arises that can do this to a degree equal to or greater than animal testing. Then this controversial method will remain.
There is certainly hope that animal testing will one day become completely outdated and irrelevant in the world of science as human innovation breeds more efficient and advanced alternative methods.
A substantial amount of progress has already been made with creating the alternatives mentioned here. However, there is still a long way to go before companies and institutions are truly ready to let animal testing die out.
In the meantime, increased use of pre-existing alternatives can help significantly reduce the number of animals used for testing until we can find that alternative that will render animal testing irrevocably unnecessary.