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HSI's Troy Seidle on 21st Century Toxicology

 

2014 Lush Prize judge and Humane Society International's Troy Seidle tells us more about the future of animal testing...

What is the nature of your work with HSI?

As director of Humane Society International's Research & Toxicology Department, I lead a global team of scientists, political and public relations specialists, and campaigners, dedicated to ending animal testing. We're active in more than a dozen countries, working hand in hand with governments, companies and scientists to expand the use of modern tools and technologies to replace animals in product safety testing and human health research. Our #BeCrueltyFree campaign is leading the charge for EU-style cosmetics animal testing and sales bans around the world, and we've already made major headway in India, the United States, Australia, New Zealand, Brazil and Taiwan. We also do extensive work on replacing animals in chemicals testing, and are driving changes to regulations around the world to save animals – seeing decades-old animal test requirements dropped and replaced with better, faster, cheaper, kinder tests that are fit for the 21st century. And our Science Without Suffering initiative is working to apply these same advances to the wider field of human health research in the hope of overcoming obstacles created by reliance on misleading 'animal models' of human disease.

What kind of work will you be looking to award at this year's Lush Prize?

The judging has already taken place, so you'll have to wait for the awards ceremony on 14th November for the full scoop!

Recent years have seen a major breakthrough in toxicity testing. Do you think that this will be the innovation that puts an end to cosmetic testing on animals?

Certainly, technology development and innovation is a critical piece of the puzzle. With every new human biology-based testing system that achieves validation and regulatory acceptance, we move one step closer to the end of animal testing. However, being able to fully replace each and every animal test isn't necessary to put an end to such testing for cosmetics, as the European Union's 2009 animal testing ban will attest. That's because almost nobody (outside of China) still does animal testing of 'finished' cosmetic products, and testing for cosmetic ingredients (which is really what we're talking about) is mainly happening for new chemistries, which is hard to justify when companies have access to literally thousands of established ingredients with histories of safe use. Once EU politicians understood that companies can produce safe products just by using safe ingredients without ever conducting another animal test, it was a fairly straight line to a legal ban. So what's needed to end cosmetics animal testing worldwide is for politicians in every country to emulate the EU ban and make such cruel testing against the law regardless of the availability of alternatives. I believe that as more and more countries introduce test bans, we'll see the pace of alternatives’ development quicken. In fact, we're already seeing this happen in the EU, which has become the world's largest market for in vitro test methods. This is why I think it is absolutely right that the Lush Prize recognizes not only advancements in the laboratory, but also those organizations and individuals who are advancing change through political lobbying, public awareness, and education and training.

Please could you outline the benefits of toxicity testing without animals?

There are ethical, scientific, time and economic advantages to toxicity testing without animals. The ethical advantages are obvious: testing chemicals on live animals causes suffering and death, and so replacing them is the humane thing to do. Scientifically there are myriad advantages, because your starting point – the animal model – is so unsatisfactory. In simplest terms, mice and rabbits in the lab are not mini people; biochemically and physiologically they are quite different from you or I, and can react in entirely different ways when exposed to the same chemical. Yet that is the basic premise on which animal toxicity testing is based: that rodents and rabbits can be used as human proxies. This means that in many cases, animal testing is no more reliable than flipping a coin, over- or under-estimating the effects on humans. By replacing them with tests based directly on human biology, and validated according to modern standards, we remove the guesswork and make our testing vastly more reliable. Typically non-animal testing is far quicker to produce results and more cheaply too, so switching to humane test strategies has real practical advantages for companies and regulators. From the consumer's perspective, non-animal testing means greater security – knowing that the safety of the products we apply to our skin and bodies hasn't been gambled on a mouse or rat test first devised in the 1940s, but on modern cutting-edge science.

Tell us more about how you became involved with the Lush Prize.

I've known the good folks at Lush for many years, and was honoured to be invited to serve as a judge of this innovative and most worthwhile endeavour.

What is the next step for HSI in the fight against animal testing?

Our #BeCrueltyFree campaign has already helped achieve an end to cosmetic animal testing across the European Union and India, and we have bans proposed in Australia, Brazil, New Zealand, Taiwan and the United States. But our ambition is to achieve a global end to cosmetics cruelty. Beyond that, achieving a paradigm shift in medical research away from invasive tests on monkeys and mice, and instead utilizing the very latest human-relevant technologies that science has to offer, is a really exciting goal we're working on. The recent explosion in bioinformatics and organs on a chip, to name just two, are realizing whole new areas of scientific potential that we couldn't have dreamed possible ten years ago. The refrain that replacing all animals in science is not possible is self evidently absurd, because technologists and engineers are bringing us one step closer to that goal every day.

 

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"There are ethical, scientific, time and economic advantages to toxicity testing without animals [...] Scientifically there are myriad advantages, because your starting point – the animal model – is so unsatisfactory."

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