What are alternatives to animal testing?

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The advancement of medical research has led to the increased use of animal models for experiments. Each year millions of animals are exposed to different experiments in the formulation of pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, and other products. In the United States alone, over 26 million animals are used yearly in scientific experiments (Doke & Shashikant, 2015). Animals are used for testing the efficacy of novel medical treatments, establishing the safety of products; establish safe dosage of medicines (Pasupuleti, Molahally & Salwaji, 2016). Animal rights activists have raised several concerns due to the distress, pain, and eventual deaths experienced by these animals during such experiments (Pontes, Lopes, Ribeiro, Araujo, 2022). Despite the concerns, animals remain an important part of experimental models for testing safety, and efficacy among other uses. Alternatives to animals are slowly emerging as the mainstream models for experimentation.


Proponents of animal testing argue for their use due to major successes in establishing prosperous treatments and pharmaceuticals. Animal testing has been used from time immemorial contributing to known treatments and cures. Advancements have been witnessed in the fields of oncology, vaccinations, and microbiology among other treatments (Pontes, Lopes, Ribeiro, Araujo, 2022). Animals used in experiments have similar physiological, genetic, and structural features to humans making them perfect models to test new products. Animal models such as chimpanzees, mice, and hamsters are considered to be genetically similar to human beings making them perfect models for testing vaccines (McCracken et al. 2021). Animals themselves have benefited from the testing as the treatments have advanced veterinary medicine. Perceived cruelty to animals is mitigated through laws and regulations guiding experiments involving animal models worldwide. For example, the Assessment and Accreditation of Laboratory Animal Care International- is a nonprofit organization that promotes uniform standards of animal care in U.S. laboratories.

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On the other hand, opponents of the use of animals for testing argue that the use of animals in such experiments is cruel, inhumane, and unnecessary. Every year millions of animals die due to these experiments (Cheng et al., 2022). Some of these experiments have major flaws and do not realize their potential. The studies are abandoned due to strong adverse events that mainly lead to deaths and disposal of the animal models. Interestingly, a large number of products pass the animal testing phase but get discontinued due to adverse events in human beings. Nevertheless, certain products failed in certain animal models but became effective in humans (Rosania, 2013). For example, Aspirin was deemed dangerous during testing in certain animal species but proved safe and effective in humans. Animal rights activists have carried out campaigns that have sensitized the public against animal cruelty (McCracken et al. 2021). Such campaigns have created a demand for cruelty-free products. The demand for such products is on the rise with many countries banning products whose ingredients are tested on animal models.

Alternative models

Due to the different ethical questions, scientists have developed alternative models for testing. These alternatives were developed specifically to overcome the usual shortcomings associated with animal models (Doke & Shashikant, 2015). The alternatives offer pharmaceutical and chemical testing to certain standards. The alternatives are cost-effective, humane, time efficient, and less controversial. The known alternatives are; computer models, cell and tissue cultures, and alternative organisms

Computer models

Computer models are special software models that can mimic human functions. These models assist researchers in designing. The software is designed to simulate the possible biological and toxic effects of a drug without introducing it to an animal (Cheng et al., 2022). For example, common software used in the prediction of receptor binding sites prediction is known as Computer-Aided Drug Design (CADD). Structure-Activity Relationship (SARs) computer model is employed in the prediction of biological effects of a pharmaceutical product based on chemical moieties associated with a parent compound (McCracken et al. 2021). Advancement in Artificial Intelligence machines has enhanced the prospects of computer models further.

Cell and tissue cultures

Cell and tissue cultures in vitro are the harvesting and culturing of stem cells outside the body. The cells are harvested and grown in the medium for weeks. These cells are then used as models to observe interactions with drugs on tests (Rosania, 2013). These cultures are mainly used in assessing efficacy and toxicity.

Alternative orgasms

Single-celled organisms have been proposed as alternates to higher vertebrates that present ethical challenges. The organism includes prokaryotes such as E. Coli, Protista such as D. discoideum, Fungi such as S. pombe have been used especially in genetic experiments (Cheng et al., 2022). Lower vertebrates are smart options due to their genetic similarity to the higher vertebrates including mammals. Furthermore, there are fewer ethical complications involved in the experimental use of lower vertebrates.

In summary, animal experimentation is facing major ethical issues. Efforts by the scientific community have been aimed at reducing the reliance on animals as models for experiments. Scientists are focused on reducing, refining and replacing animal models in research. Different alternatives to animal models have been forwarded. Their implementation is progressing positively in scientific experiments. The integration of the various alternatives includes; computer models, in vitro cell cultures, enzymatic screens and other model organisms are essential. The implementation of modern analytical techniques, data acquisition and statistical procedures to analyze the results of alternative protocols will deliver steadfast results.

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  1. Cheng, M. Liu, W. et al. (2022) Regulatory considerations for animal studies of biomaterial products. Bioactive materials, 11(2) 52-56
  2. Doke, S.K. & Shashikant C. D. (2015) Alternatives to animal testing: A review. Saudi Pharmaceutical Journal, 23(1), 223-229
  3. McCracken, J. M., Calderon, G. A., Robinson, A. J., Sullivan, C. N., Cosgriff-Hernandez, E., & Hakim, J. (2021). Animal Models and Alternatives in Vaginal Research: a Comparative   Review. Reproductive sciences (Thousand Oaks, Calif.)28(6), 1759–1773.
  4. Pasupuleti, M. K., Molahally, S. S., & Salwaji, S. (2016). Ethical guidelines, animal profile, various animal models used in periodontal research with alternatives and future perspectives. Journal of Indian Society of Periodontology20(4), 360–368.
  5. Pontes, J.R., Lopes, I. Ribeiro, R. Araujo, C. V. (2022). Humane acute testing with tadpoles for risk assessment of chemicals: Avoidance instead of lethality, Chemosphere 303(3) 13517
  6. Rosania K. (2013). Synthetic research tools as alternatives to animal models. Lab animal42(6), 189–190
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