When chemicals are considered too dangerous to be tested on humans, animals have long been the answer to some scientific quandaries. The EU project ToxRisk will act as Europe’s flagship for safety assessments that do not require the use of animals. EURACTIV Germany reports.
Animal testing is still a method that is used to test whether substances are harmful or suitable for use by humans and it, naturally, has many critics and detractors. European legislation, such as the Cosmetics Regulation, already exists and regulates the use of animal testing.
Nevertheless, the number of animals used in testing is still high. In Germany alone, according to government statistics published in November 2015, around 2.8 million mice, fish, monkeys, dogs and other animals were used for these purposes in 2014.
High death rate
About half of the animals are subjected to tests of new medicines and chemicals. The doses are usually so high that the animals subsequently die due to acute poisoning. Unrecorded numbers of mice and rats are killed immediately after birth if their genetic make-up does not meet the needs or specifications of the experiments.
To change this morbid situation, the EU wants to change the way toxicology is carried out, and not just EU-wide either, but globally. EU ToxRisk is a project that aims to remove animals from the scientific equation.
The European Commission has supported the project for six years with €30 million, as part of its Horizon 2020 research programme. It is hoped that the findings of the project can be used in future experiments and assessments. New, ultra-modern methods are in the pipeline. The plan involves using other non-animal in-vitro methods, as well as in-silico testing and virtual screening.
“In toxicology, we are moving towards a mechanism-based form of assessment. This paradigm shift involves in-vitro methods, especially those relevant to humans, and in-silico will play a crucial role too,” said Annette Bitsch, head of Chemical Risk Assessment at Fraunhofer ITEM, Hannover. The institute is one of 39 partners collaborating on the project.
Thanks to the work of Annette Bitsch and her team, a system was developed in which air-borne substances can be assessed without the use of animals. Instead, respiratory system cells, from humans or animals, can be used in a variety of models.
Animal suffering unclear
It is still unclear whether it will be possible to phase out animal testing in the next few years. German legislation on animal testing does stipulate that animal experimentation should be replaced whenever possible.
In order to ensure that EU law is being implemented in Germany, since 2013, all projects in which animals are used must be subjected to a “non-technical project summary”. The German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) is responsible for publishing this information on the Internet.
However, the Association of “Doctors against animal experiments Germany” has criticised information that they allege is actually inaccurate. They claimed that the information that has been shared so far does not provide any adequate conclusions on the severity of animal-suffering or the number of transgenic animals.
Clinical drug goes rogue
News broke today (15 January) that six people were in a critical condition, with one in a coma, after taking an experimental drug as part of a clinical trial in France. The Minister for Health, Marisol Touraine, called it a “very serious accident” and was in Rennes to visit the laboratory in which the drug was being developed and the patients.
The trial has been halted, and its participants called in.