Yes, There’s a Ban, but What Comes Next?

Print Friendly

For as long as I can remember with the release of new cosmetics or new (prescription) drug on the market there have always been those that make it their job to reveal the ugly truth behind creating these products. The truth behind animal testing.

Though animal cruelty is at the centerpiece of most arguments against this sort of trials, there are also very convincing scientific arguments against it as well. The strongest is that a product that reacts well on animals don’t always transfer over to humans. The most famous example of this is the distribution of the sleeping pill, Thalidomide, in the 50’s. A drug that was responsible for the birth defects of over 10,000 newborns of mothers who had taken the drug, even when it showed no negative effects on animal subjects in normal doses. Though testing has surely evolved from that point, what we cannot change is the biological makeup of these animals and their differences to the human animal.

Sometimes the results are even flipped; aspirin is known to have negative effects on animals but works very positively in humans and is one of the most widely used over the counter drugs.

With this in mind, the Dutch government has recently taken huge strides in changing the way testing is done in the Netherlands with their new plans to ban animal testing by 2025. This is a huge feat for animal rights activists, but with the closing of one era is that start of another. The era of accurate alternatives.

So, if the government actually plans to go through with this, what exactly is going to be its replacement?

Well, not to fear, my friends. I spoke with an actual professional who knows a thing about some alternatives to animal testing.

Debby Weijers is the Advisor of Project Development and Innovation at Stichting Proefdiervrij, an organization that regularly provides financial support to several alternative testing labs throughout the Netherlands. An institution that played an integral part in creating the bill, according to Weijers. She expressed that having a role in that process shows a genuine initiative by the Dutch government to modernize their scientific approach.

The labs that Weijers deals with have worked with several alternatives to animal testing, many of which she expressed has shown promising results. Two of the more successful approaches are the ‘organ on a chip’ method and the ‘organoid’.

Let’s start with ‘organ on a chip’. The name sounds a little weird, i know, but it is a genuine scientific process that involves transferring stem cells from several organs through the body onto a slab. That then simulates the organ it was retrieved from.

Weijers gave the example of a ‘lung on a chip’ saying, “ It’s lung cells, but it also has an airflow and blood circulation.” Retrieving cells from an actual human body provides a better simulation for more accurate, 3-dimensional testing.

Next are organoids. This process was established, in part, by a Dutchman, oddly enough. Hans Clevers, along with a team of scientists at the Hans Clevers Group at the Hubrecht Institute, discovered that you can build an organ by (again) using the stem cells of that organ. It’s all very scientific.

There hasn’t been much backlash in regards to the new legislation, but there have been defenses of animal testing in a more general sense. Animal testing has been in use for so long and has been successful in finding several drugs and treatments, that many feel like giving that up now would set research back. And though there are not enough alternatives to replace all aspects of the roles of animals in research, they have proven to be very successful in the areas they were created to replace.

Scientists have and continue to publish groundbreaking works, like that of the Hans Clevers Group, but in all the excitement you can sometimes forget to question things like where they get these cells from.

Well, not much to anyone’s surprise, all cellular donations are voluntary. “In many cases, it has to do with patients,” says Weijers, “patients can sign a form that says that ‘my cells can be used for research’.” Patients aren’t the only candidates for the processes, though. Weijers explained that “the organoid procedure works with tissues and cells from healthy persons who volunteer to give their cells to science.” Also, because stem cells, or just cells in general, have the ability to reproduce, these techniques are virtually infinite.

Not only are the opportunities for testing seemingly unlimited but these modes of testing can replace up to 30% of animals used for cancer treatment research according to researchers at the Living Biobank. Scientists are using human cells to find treatments for human diseases. It seems so clear that it makes you wonder why we didn’t think of that sooner.

By ‘we’, I mean the experts that dedicate their life to finding breakthroughs like these.

I’m honestly not sure if I should be impressed or a little frightened at how far scientific advancements have come.

Throughout her experience in dealing with these labs as well as government officials, Weijers never lost sight of the company’s goal. “We are against animal testing, and in the end, we would like to have a (complete) ban, but we also realize that we can’t just start a ban without having alternatives.”

Though Weijers doubts that all means of experimentation reliant on animal experimentation could, realistically, have an undocked embargo by 2025, she says “the real ambition (is) to make the Netherlands the world leader in animal free innovations by 2025,” and this is the country’s first step in achieving that.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *