Professor Thales Tréz, a guest speaker at 2014's Lush Prize conference, gives us an idea of where we are in the fight against animal testing.
Please could you introduce yourself and give us a brief introduction to your work.
I’m a biologist, with a master’s degree in Applied Ethics, and a PhD in Science Education. For 15 years I’ve been studying animal use in science in my academic work, from a scientific and epistemological perspective. I’m also a full time professor at the Institute of Science and Technology, at the Federal University of Alfenas, responsible for “Science and Society” and “Philosophy and Methodology of Science” courses. I am the co-author of the book “The true face of animal experimentation” (2000), editor of the book “Animal tool: the harmful use of animals in higher education” (2008), and will publish next year the book “Understanding animal experimentation: a scientific criticism to the use of animals as models for human health”, the fruit of my doctoral studies. Besides that, I’m founder of the website www.1Rnet.org, online since 1999 and the main source of information on alternatives to animal experimentation in Brazil.
Why is it not useful for cosmetic products to be tested on animals?
There are at least two main reasons for that: the first is a conclusion one may reach when looking back and finding that most results we got from animal testing was not relevant for the human condition. When considering physiology and metabolic pathways, there is little match or correlation amongst different species, and when there is, it happens by chance, and not because of some specific shared pathway. In fact, there are many similarities amongst species, but very small differences are crucial when deciding if a substance is toxic or not. This is a species barrier, and even by genetic manipulation, it cannot be overcome. New technologies and approaches already available are part of a second reason to understand why animals are gradually losing their status in predictive toxicological studies. More robust, modern and humane, these techniques and approaches are also under a process of considerable development and innovation.
How have new methods of toxicology testing affected the way that science views the animal model as a test subject?
Science and technology are in constant and fast development. At the same time that we have sophisticated instruments and tools available, we are also promoting more integrated and accessible databases, as well as reviewing data gained from animal models, through systematic reviews. All these recent achievements in science inevitably impact on the way toxicology testing is traditionally performed.
We are now looking for more replicability in experiments, more quality data and more reliability in models. In doing so, we are shifting the focus to more modern experiment designs, leaving behind traditional animal models.
Is 1R the new 3Rs?
Not yet. But we are moving forward to this reality. A part of the experimental sciences have adopted animals for hundreds of years to answer important questions, and the 3Rs represent an important step in changing some features of these sciences. But it definitely is not the final step. Nor is the 1R! But, for now, the 1R is a good and reasonable perspective, for the light it sheds in some inherent and important contradictions in the experimental sciences.
In your opinion, are we near to a breakthrough in the fight against animal testing?
Yes and no. Yes, as we need to understand science as a dynamic process, with novelties, following its historical period, and always open to changes. And no, as we also need to understand science as culture, tied to traditions and deep-rooted perspectives. It is a human endeavour, with its internal conflicts. In a few words, we have at present filled with new tools, new approaches, new perspectives, new values, but with a past filled with strong certainties and claimed glories. In my opinion, it really doesn’t matter much how near we are to this breakthrough, but we are definitely, and irreversibly, building it.