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Animals benefit from software development

Posted 17/04/2012 by sevans

Recent attempts to ban the importation of laboratory animals into the UK have refocused attention on the development of non-animal alternatives for applications including drug testing.

In Mid-March 2012, ferry companies and airlines began bowing to pressure from animal rights activists by refusing to carry animals destined for laboratories testing, for example, drugs in development. Scientists from the UK Medical Research Council, the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Association, and the Association of Medical Research Charities said: ‘Threats to the carriage of these animals will slow down the progress of essential and life-saving biomedical research.’

Although the vast majority of the animals used for research in the UK are actually bred in the UK, there are certain programmes where experts from around the world find it necessary to share specific breeds of animals. This aspect of animal research has increased in recent years with the move towards the globalisation of research, particularly amongst the major drug companies.

While animals will continue to play a vital role in the development and safety testing of medical treatments for the foreseeable future, the hunt has been on for a number of years to find viable non-animal alternatives. Progress has been made and in many cases, not only have alternatives been shown to be effective, they have also been shown to be more cost-effective and deliver more useful results.

Several in vitro tests are now being reviewed by the European Centre for the Validation of Alternative Methods (ECVAM) but one stumbling block will always be acceptance of such tests by all the various regulatory authorities around the world. 

At the In-Cosmetics fair in Barcelona this week, the current state of the art of non-animal alternatives and their use in testing applications is being addressed by speakers from ECVAM and the Center for Alternatives to Animal Testing – Europe (CAAT-EU), which is the European headquarters of the Johns Hopkins Center for Alternatives to Animal Testing (CCAT), located in Baltimore, Maryland, US.

Such alternative tests are also said to correlate more closely to the way the human body reacts, however, given the much larger quantities of data generated, it is sometimes difficult to fully interpret these. Bioinformatics software can offer a solution by using statistical methods and visualisation techniques to  reduce complex data sets so that they can be plotted in 3D on a computer.

As one supplier of such software, Qlucore has pointed out: ‘As humans we are all used to interpreting 3D pictures in our environment, and so our brain is able to find structures in complex 3D figures very quickly.’

While such approaches may not totally eliminate animal testing, the Information Age in which we now find ourselves is now delivering more than just music on the move, movies streamed directly to tablet computers and driverless cars. Animal rights activists beware, there may be a software alternative for you too in the very near future.

Neil Eisberg - Editor

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