As we’ve discussed, in vitro testing doesn’t automatically mean animal-product-free, that’s where XCellR8’s scale of animal-free testing come into play. The scale is intended to help organisations distinguish between the different levels of animal products used, to make better informed decisions about the testing approach you want to follow. For instance, many tests still use foetal bovine serum which involves a degree of animal suffering whilst others replace this with more ethically-sourced human serum.

How do we use the scale to inform our decision making and the way we conduct our work in the lab?

  1. Cell lines should be adapted to grow in media that does not contain animal serum. Ideally media should be wholly chemically-defined but, if that is not possible, then ethically-obtained human serum should be used.
  2. Only human-derived cell lines, rather than animal cell lines, should be used. From a scientific perspective, for testing the toxicity of chemicals to humans, the use of human-derived cell lines is essential.
  3. Protein-based components (e.g. antibodies, extracellular matrix proteins, media supplements etc) should all be derived from recombinant or human sources wherever possible.
  4. Tissue extracts (eg liver extracts used to incorporate metabolic capacity into genotoxicity tests) should all be from human sources.
  5. The generation of test components, such as reconstructed human tissues, should avoid the routine use of animal-derived elements in the production process wherever possible.
  6. Our supply chain needs to be both monitored to ensure that we source animal-product-free materials when we set up new tests, and regularly audited to maintain compliance.
  7. Tests should always be conducted in a way that achieves the highest possible level of animal-product-free compliance (Levels 1-7 as described in the scale).

What is the answer where animal-free tests don’t exist?

What if completely animal-free testing is not possible in some instances? This is a challenging dilemma; certain tests must be conducted in order to meet safety regulations, and yet there are not always wholly animal-free methods available to perform these tests.

One approach that we take is to explore certain areas where we believe that we can develop new, animal-product-free tests. With the support of UK and international funding bodies, and industry partners, we are able to ensure continued progress.

Transparent communication is vital

We feel that transparency and communication are the key to building trust between Contract Research Organisations and the personal care and the wider chemical industries. If current technology does not enable a test to be conducted in a wholly animal-free way, then clearly stating this reality is essential so that companies are fully aware of the extent to which their in vitro testing programme is animal-free.

It is critical that all of us in consumer-facing industries communicate the current reality of in vitro testing to consumers in the high street and in online stores. Vegan or cruelty-free marketing positions must be founded on truth and clarity. Manufacturers of finished products should be able to provide an explanation, and evidence, of how their products and ingredients have been tested. Beyond explaining the current limitations of in vitro testing technology, it is also essential that we, both at XCellR8 and collectively as an industry, work hard to develop a pathway that leads to more scientifically relevant product testing that can truly be described as animal-free.