As most animal rights activists will know, the ‘three Rs’ represent the long-running challenge in the fight against animal testing: to Reduce, Refine and Replace laboratory testing on animals for scientific or cosmetic purposes.
But is it time for a paradigm shift?
21st Century Toxicology has been a big game-changer. Now that science is beginning to recognise the inadequacy of animal testing, new methods are coming into practice, like human cell culture testing. Human cell tissue can be produced in labs, and provides a far more reliable way of testing for toxicity in new medicines and products. Could this technology eventually eclipse the need for animal testing?
The need for animals in medical – and especially cosmetic testing - is fast becoming redundant. Is 1R the new 3 Rs? Because it’s now feasible that human medicines and cosmetics can be tested on human cell tissue, can we now look exclusively at Replacing animal testing?
The arguments in favour are strong. As Troy Seidle of HSI (Humane Society International) says: “Scientifically there are myriad advantages [to toxicity testing without animals], 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.”
And that’s just scientifically. Ethically speaking, laboratory animals are treated as mere subjects, experience terrible suffering and will often die in laboratories. Human cell culture testing is also more economically viable as it removes the need for guess work; it’s quicker and the results are more reliable, and so a more efficient use of time and funding.