Anything FMCG companies put on or into our bodies today, from toothpaste to perfumes, medication and foods, has likely, at some moment in time, been tested on animals.
Perhaps today, these practices are not as common as in the past, and this the result of several animal right organizations denouncing the cruelty often exercised against these animals.
But, in some hidden labs, somewhere, the tests continue, without the written consent of the animals themselves.
With the Coronavirus, the urgency of finding a vaccine meant animal testing was in often cases bypassed in favor of human guinea pigs, with their consent of course.
But are we seeing the end of animal testing?
Typical vaccine search-timeline
Typically, vaccine development can take 15 to 20 years, start to finish, Mark Feinberg, president and CEO of the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative, told Stat News.
The lengthy process requires that scientists first give the vaccine to animals to determine whether it’s safe and effective at preventing the disease in question. Human trials come next.
“When you hear predictions about it taking at best a year or a year and a half to have a vaccine available … there’s no way to come close to those timelines unless we take new approaches,” Feinberg said.
Part of these new approaches is direct human testing.
This week the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), announced its seventh COVID-19 vaccine project, according to Weforum.org. The organization will be investing an initial US$620,000 in a partnering agreement with The University of Hong Kong (HKU) to rapidly develop a vaccine candidate against COVID-19.
The first Phase 1 study for a COVID-19 vaccine, which has received funding support from CEPI, also began vaccinating volunteers this week.
In Seattle, 45 healthy, willing volunteers have reportedly agreed to partake in the first human trial of a vaccine, funded by The National Institute of Health (NIH), that could protect against COVID-19.
NIH itself reports that 95 out of every 100 drugs that pass animal tests fail in humans. Experiments on animals divert time and funding from better, non-animal methods.
Tiny organs could end animal testing
“Organoids”, one-millionth the size of a regular human organ, have been created by scientists at the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine.
Considered the world’s most sophisticated lab model of the human body, the system allows these tiny organs to successfully determine if a pharmaceutical is toxic to the human body or not, which would also help put an end to animal testing.
Their findings were published in the scientific journal Biofabrication.
Everything from your liver, to your heart, and to your lungs are able to be recreated in tiny sizes so as to improve pharmaceuticals looking to run tests that currently require petri dishes or animals.
“Organoids” are 3D tissue cultures that are sourced from stem cells and this is the first time that scientists have been able to successfully prove that certain drugs are toxic to humans.
Similar testing is done in outer space, on the International Space Station (ISS). One of the exciting projects NASA astronauts are currently working on is growing three-dimensional cultures in order to see how zero gravity assists their growth.
What that means is that they’re growing new 3 dimensional organs at zero gravity using human stem cells sent from Earth.
The hope is that these stem cells will eventually turn into bone, cartilage, and other organs. Once that’s achieved, the hope is that the experiment will open doors to grow organs that are ready for transplant.
Proponents of animal testing
Some remain adamant that animal testing is essential in the fight against disease.
The news is full of lists of private and public research institutions at various stages of research into Covid-19.
As outlined in Nature magazine recently, ‘Monkeys and mice tell researchers different things about infection, shedding light on factors such as the role of the immune system or how the virus spreads’.
Professor Nikolai Petrovsky, from the medical school of Flinders University in Adelaide, Australia, has said that animal research is ‘absolutely essential’. He also cautions against political pressure to speed up the process. ‘I know some people are talking about bypassing animals and going to human studies’, he told Bloomberg recently. ‘But that’s fraught with difficulty and danger.’