8th World Congress

AV magazine issue 1, 2012 2012 Issue #1 World Congress Know it All in Five
Erin Hill

In the early 1990s, I staffed a booth at a conference for toxicologists, scientists who assess the safety of substances, such as cosmetic and personal care products, and/or their ingredients. As part of our exhibit, we had a banner with the question, "What are Alternatives?" Some 20 years later, that banner hangs in my office to remind me that we continually need to explain what alternatives are—and what they are not. Below are some points to note when you think about alternatives.

1 What is the question?
Recently, the toxicology community has widely recognized that animal tests cannot often provide correct or reliable information to predict health effects in humans. So why use them as 'the gold standard' against which new methods will be measured? Instead, wouldn't we be better off identifying the causes of toxic effects in humans and developing new approaches to assess those damages? This is the focus of a huge effort in the U.S. known as Tox 21, which is based on a report by the National Academy of Sciences titled "Toxicity Testing in the 21st Century: A Vision and a Strategy." Although an ambitious endeavor, the Tox 21 program may provide in vitro (non-animal) methods based on human tissues and cells that will provide useful data to industry and regulatory agencies.
2 Why are animals still used?
In over 20 years in the field of alternatives I have talked to a lot of scientists, and have never met one who wants to do animal testing. So why are animals still being used? In some situations suitable alternative methods just are not fully developed. In other situations it is due to government regulations, because many products are required to have animal test results submitted to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and Environmental Protection Agency. However, even in these cases, non-animal methods are used to assess early formulations. In a global marketplace, much of the testing is now being requested by countries with expanding markets, such as Brazil and China. In these countries toxicity testing is a relatively new development and the reliance on animal data is strong.
3 Not an animal, but cells
Many alternative methods, such as computer programs and biochemical tests, do not rely on animal cells or tissues and utilize human cells or tissues instead. This is the direction new research is now taking. But meanwhile, many alternatives tests today use cells or products derived from animals. This may be the case for some time because there is not a sufficient, reliable supply of human biological material, such as organs and tissues, available on the scale required. Fortunately, new technology is helping human tissues grow right in the lab.
4 There's no one answer
As newly developed in vitro methods were hitting the market in the 1990s, the hope was that they could determine the safety of almost all products under all circumstances. Headlines to this effect "No More Animal Testing!" are still seen in the media today. However, the complicated fact is that no single in vitro method can replace an animal model.
5 "Alternatives" or "Better"?
"Alternatives" was coined to suggest that these methods were substitutes for animal tests. For many years the implication, ethics aside, was that, scientifically, the animal model was superior to any "alternative" offered. However, as science was increasingly used to design "alternatives," it became clear that these non-animal tests could be superior to animal tests.

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