In the month when we’ve heard encouraging news about three new vaccines for Covid-19, we wanted to share another cause for celebration that is emerging from the response to the pandemic.

Animal experiments take too long and are too inaccurate

In this article Could Covid spell the end of animal testing? from Corporate Knights, a supplement in the Globe and Mail in Canada as well as The Washington Post, news comes that the fast pace of research in Covid-19 is exposing animal modelling for what many of us have long claimed it to be: a scientific anachronism. The sheer urgency of the race to find a vaccine for Covid-19 has meant that the long timescales and inaccuracy of animal trials have forced scientific teams to adopt exciting new human cell based technologies.

The promise of organ-on-a-chip has been realised with the development of ‘mini-brains’, tissue cultures made from human stem cells that simulate the human organ. Research led by Dr Thomas Hartung of CAAS (Centre for Alternatives to Animal Testing) has shown how the virus can infect and damage brain cells, helping guide the development of therapeutics.

The stunning speed with which Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna have been able to progress to human trials of their vaccines has been put down to the reduction of animal studies used in their research, which can traditionally take years to complete. The availability of new alternative models, including computer modelling, have helped researchers to refine potential vaccine candidates with increased accuracy. Let’s not forget that the vast majority of new drugs fail once they move into human studies, despite appearing safe and effective in animal experiments.

Are we finally ready for human cell based methods to become the norm?

For those of us working in the cosmetics industry, where animal testing bans are more commonplace, the use of non-animal methods for safety testing is perhaps more accepted. The way in which the pandemic has forced scientists to abandon antiquated methods is a fantastic silver lining of an otherwise huge black cloud. Can we now look forward to even more rapid development of human cell based methods, with the collective support of our pharmaceutical colleagues? We certainly hope so!

“I would really like to see a scientific culture where human biology is the gold standard, where we all work together to advance science and medicine without harming animals.”

DR CHARU CHANDRASEKERA, FOUNDER, CANADIAN CENTRE FOR ALTERNATIVES TO ANIMAL METHODS

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