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For the past century, animal testing has been one of the primary methods used to test drug and chemical safety. The animals used include rodents, dogs, monkeys and rabbits. The ethical issue of inflicting physical pain and psychological distress on these animals has disturbed many and consequently been debated for a long time. Those against animal testing say the tests do little to help us determine whether a product is safe for human use and in most cases do not actually predict real world reactions. Mirroring diseases or toxicity by creating symptoms in animals has serious scientific limitations that cannot be passed – it comes as no surprise then that 9 out of every 10 medicines that appear safe and effective in animals fail to do so in humans. Today, however, nearly 50 different methods and testing strategies have been developed and accepted by international regulatory bodies.
In Vitro Testing
Scientists today are now able to use in vitro testing, which involves human cells grown in such a way that they mimic the function and structure of human organs and bodily systems. Such examinations can be used in place of animals for disease research, toxicity tests and drug testing. Additionally, they have proven themselves to be highly accurate – much more so than what current animal tests can offer. One example is called EpiSkin which uses artificial human skin and has the potential to save the lives of thousands of animals every year from painful skin experiments and irritation tests. Another example is the development of five different ways of using human blood cells to find contaminants in drugs that can cause unwanted symptoms upon entering the body.
Researchers today have also developed a large range of advanced computer models that can simulate human biology and diseases. Numerous studies have verified the ability of these models to accurately predict how drugs and chemicals will react in the human body to the point that animals can be replaced in research altogether. Additionally, the more such a method is used, the more accurate and far-reaching in its applicability it will become.
‘Microdosing’ is a method that can be used by scientists to determine how a drug is metabolised in humans before going into large scale costly trials. Volunteers are given a minuscule dose of the drug and highly advanced imaging techniques can then monitor how drugs react and behave in the body. Microdosing has the ability to replace numerous tests on animals thereby significantly cutting down the amount of animals used for a given drug. Additionally, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans on humans can also replace the disturbing act of purposefully damaging the brains of a monkey or cat as modern scanning techniques permit the human brain to be studied with extreme precision.
Extremely life-like computerised simulators that breathe, bleed and even talk have demonstrated that teaching students physiology no longer requires dissecting animals for experimentation. Some of the most advanced simulators can simulate illness and injuries and the consequent biological responses after being given drugs. One example is TraumaMan which is a breathing, bleeding human torso that has skin, tissue, ribs and other internal organs.