loading

Chemical Screening Software May Be More Effective than Animal Testing

For many decades, animals have been subjected to toxicity testing in order to determine whether certain compounds were safe for use in the environment or in humans. In many cases, this testing has led to severe and even deadly side effects for the animals in question. To prevent these negative outcomes, researchers have been searching for alternatives to animal testing. Recently, toxicologists have successfully developed a software program that may be more effective than animal testing, thus reducing the need for animal-based experiments.

About the Software

The software program created is capable of predicting the outcomes of animal assays, which eliminates the need to perform the actual test. In order to develop this program, the researchers gathered information from the US National Toxicology Program, PubChem and other public databases. Using this information, the researchers developed an algorithm that was 87 percent accurate in predicting the results of an animal test. Repeating animal tests is only effective 81 percent of the time, making the algorithm a more effective testing option.

During the course of their research, the scientists also discovered that animal testing involves a high level of redundancy. They discovered 69 chemicals in the database that had been tested more than 45 times each, in many cases by different companies. Two of these chemicals had been tested more than 90 times each.

Although the algorithm performed at least as well as the actual animal tests in the simulations conducted, this method still comes with limits. Specifically, the program has not been able to accurately predict a chemical’s propensity to cause cancer or other long-term effects.
The work on this program was partially funded by Underwriters Laboratories, a safety science company based out of Illinois. This company has already released the software they created to other companies that want to evaluate their chemicals before releasing them.

What It Means for Animal Testing

The United States and several other countries have established regulations that determine how companies must evaluate new chemicals that are intended to be used for consumer products, in the environment or for commercial purposes. Most of these regulations require companies to submit data on the safety of these chemicals before they can be sold or distributed. However, many of these countries are also working to limit the use of animals in the chemical testing process.

For example, in the United States, the National Toxicology Program, Environmental Protection Agency and National Institutes of Health initiated a program to develop better, more efficient non-animal toxicity tests in 2008. In 2016, the United States passed a law that requires federal agencies to make an effort to reduce and replace animal testing with alternatives. In the European Union, animal testing for cosmetic products has been banned since 2013.

The FDA is currently in the process of testing and evaluating this new software program. If the program proves successful in the long run, it will provide an inexpensive alternative to animal testing that could revolutionize testing processes all over the world. This program is unlikely to be the end of animal testing altogether, but it represents a step in the right direction.

Alternative Approaches to Animal Testing for Safety Evaluation

Animal testing was once the most widely used tool to evaluate product safety. It’s still a common practice in cosmetic testing, depending on which markets the product is being sold in. For instance, China insists that all cosmetic products are tested on animals to meet regulatory requirements for sale in their country. Animals are still widely used for testing in medical research, as well.
There are, however, other models of testing that have proven to be extremely accurate. For cosmetic testing especially, animal skin will often not react the way that human skin will to the same tests. With the current technology available, there are alternative approaches to testing which are often more cost effective with a higher rate of accuracy. These methods might be used to replace animal testing initiatives or to supplement research for better samplings of data and more precise results.

In Vitro Testing

In Vitro testing offers a great alternative to animal testing. We’ve covered how effective in vitro testing has been in the European market where animal testing is banned. There’s also heavy evidence within the scientific community that this method may be capable of providing more rapid results which are more accurate than past testing methods.
In vitro methods isolate the tissue or cells, without other variables that may take place within the organism as a whole. The field is continuously advancing and currently offers a more rapid result rate and high accuracy. There are many thoughts that this may eventually replace previous testing methods.

Examples of In Vitro Testing

For cosmetic testing, in vitro options are excellent for ocular and dermal irritation tests. In Vitro International offers tests like the Ocular/Dermal Irritection Assay Systems which allow you to access accurate results within a 24 hour period. Animal testing methods often take weeks and, because they don’t use human samples, sometimes don’t have as high of a rate of accuracy. These Irritection Assay Systems are less expensive than in vivo tests, show a high rate of accuracy, are reproducible, and it takes a fraction of the time to complete and access the data.
In Vitro International also has an in vitro test to determine corrosivity of a substance. Their Corrositex test replaces the past used rabbit test. This test offers much faster results – as little as a few minutes up to a few hours. Animal testing methods can take anywhere from two to four weeks. It’s also a significant cost savings and meets regulatory compliance in a vast number of agencies.
In Vitro International provides lab services for companies that wish to outsource their testing, as well. They provide consultation with lab customers and create customized test protocols when necessary.

Stem Cell Testing

Stem cell testing is one of the alternatives to animal testing that the medical community has been working with heavily. While stem cells are often discussed with regard to regenerative properties, they also offer a wealth of information on diseases, and the treatment of diseases. Today they’re being used with some amazing progress in the field of studying toxicity.
Because stem cells utilize human cells, there’s an improvement in prediction rate – animal testing has only a 70% accuracy rate because there are differences in the species. Going forward, stem cell testing may prove more accurate and effective.

Genetic Testing

Genetic testing is the wave of the future in medicine. These models allow for a better overall understanding of the individual patient’s predisposition for certain illnesses and conditions that may go beyond environment. Genetic testing is also used to offer more personalize approaches to medication and treatment.
Skin care and cosmetic companies have also started to see the benefit in offering personalized products based on genetics. Using genomic technologies, some companies are offering personalized skin care, such as acne relief, based on DNA results.

Computer Models to Reap Useful Data

Simulations offer another great testing option. While these are not thought to be as reliable as animal testing or other forms of testing on live cells, they can yield an abundance of information to help streamline animal and other testing. Computer models offer a way to decrease the number of animals used in testing and to simulate other scenarios with high accuracy. This addition to the testing options allows for better efficiency and an improvement on the humane treatment of testing animals.

Animal testing will remain a staple of scientific testing in the near future because it is currently the best method to test within a living organism. However, other methods can mean higher accuracy, shorter testing periods, and better informed data when used in conjunction with animal testing. It’s likely that some of these models will eventually evolve to replace older methods of testing as they advance.

EPA Recommends Moving Away From Animal Testing, While Big Data Shows Testing Is Often Unnecessary

 

In March of 2018, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released a document outlining a multiyear plan for identifying alternative testing methods that will reduce the use of animal testing. The EPA’s strategy is to reduce and eventually eliminate chemical testing on all vertebrate animal species, which necessarily includes mammals, birds, fish, reptiles and amphibians alike.

This policy shift comes after a push from animal rights advocates like Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), who has estimated that hundreds of thousands of animals may be spared from harm and death with a shift away from animal testing. For its part, the Humane Society of the United States has also hailed the EPA strategy as a meaningful step toward advancing the science of chemical safety while protecting animal welfare.

It must be said, however, that these changes are about far more than animal welfare and ethical practices. While a reduction in animal harm and cruelty is, of course, a pressing ethical concern, research continues to show that animal testing is ineffective compared to alternative forms of testing used by researchers.

Groundbreaking Big Data Study Reveals a Path Forward for the Reduction of Animal Testing

In what has been triumphed as the largest publicly available study of its kind, Elsevier partnered with Bayer AG’s pharma division to analyze the effectiveness of animal testing for predicting human safety. The findings provide valuable insights that may be useful for reducing animal testing, all while improving clinical care and patient outcomes.

The primary goal of the research was to determine how consistently animal testing could predict human safety during clinical trials. To this end, the research was exceptionally comprehensive, investigating more than 1.6 million harmful events reported for humans, as well as five of the most commonly used animals during preclinical research testing.

The study ultimately found that some animal tests are far more predictive of the ways in which humans will respond at clinical trial than other forms of animal testing. The predictive efficacy often hinges on the animal species used for testing as well as the symptoms that were reported.

In short, the study reveals that plenty of current animal testing methods are both unnecessary and ineffective. The study goes on to conclude that Big Data and better analysis can significantly reduce animal testing. This positive outcome is achievable by choosing animals for testing based on the species that have the most predictive outcomes for patients who have specific symptoms or are using specific drugs.

This influential study shows that the way toward improving patient safety and outcomes is likely paired with the reduction of animal testing.

Proven Alternatives to Animal Testing Already Exist

It is important to understand that important progress has already been made in the efforts to reduce animal testing while improving human safety. One such development is the use of in vitro systems to better understand how humans will respond to chemicals. Specifically, in vitro systems can now effectively identify eye irritants and allergic skin reactions without the need for animal testing.

Traditional animal test subjects for allergic reaction research — often guinea pigs or mice — have a test chemical applied to their skin. After the chemical is applied, the animal is killed and examined for signs of an allergic response or reaction. Recent studies increasingly show that non-animal methods of predicting human allergic reactions — such as in vitro — are more effective than traditional tests on animals.

In addition to in vitro, computer modeling (in silico) has also made significant advancements that can reduce the use of animals for testing. These complex computer models aim to simulate human biology with a specific focus on disease progression. With the help of these computer-generated models, it is increasingly possible to successfully predict how drugs will react within the body, undoing the need for animal use during exploratory testing. And, once again, recent studies continue to suggest that in silico modeling research prove accurate enough to do away with the need for harmful testing on animals.

The rapid and cutting-edge advancements of in vitro and in silico have created proven alternatives that can improve patient safety and cut down on the overuse of animal testing at the same time. There are many reasons to be concerned with animal testing, which range from the ethical to the practical. As science continues to advance, the goal is to increasingly phase out and reduce the need for animal testing as proven and often superior alternatives take their place.

The EPA’s latest recommendation and the latest Elsevier/Bayer research, fortunately, push us closer to the increased prioritization and adoption of alternatives to animal testing.

 

Sources:

http://thehill.com/policy/energy-environment/377160-epa-floats-plan-for-reducing-animal-testing

http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/44239-epa-recommends-transitioning-away-from-animal-testing

https://www.thepharmaletter.com/article/big-data-study-shows-unnecessary-animal-testing-can-be-reduced https://www.dddmag.com/news/2018/05/big-data-study-probes-how-well-animal-studies-predict-human-safety

http://www.humanesociety.org/news/press_releases/2018/04/animal-advocates-praise-epa.html

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12842603