In 2019, 1,813,800 animals – including 61% rats – were used in France during laboratory tests. This research practice was chosen by the NGO Peta, at the origin of the recent citizens’ initiative against animal experimentation, “Save Cruelty Free Cosmetics”. With more than 1.4 million signatures collected in Europe, the petition was a success: the French also supported it the most. But is it possible to replace the animal model in research? Franziska Grein and Ivan Balansard shed light on this debate for us.
Science & Vie: Does Peta’s initiative involve animal experimentation in all types of research or only some?
Franziska Grein: She calls for a ban on animal testing for cosmetics; to reform chemical regulations to protect human health and the environment without animal testing; and to modernize science in Europe.
what is targeted, eventually, is the definitive cessation of the use of animals, especially by investing in non-animal methods. The success of the initiative reflects the growing public interest in animal welfare. It’s time to act!
Ivan Balansard: This initiative requires a ban on all animal experimentation, without exception.
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If it succeeds, it will signal the end of all biological and medical research, the development of new human and veterinary drugs and a number of basic biology research.
The Covid pandemic has however revealed how important animal models are in understanding a complex disease, but also in developing vaccines and treatments in record time. We see that Peta’s initiative goes far beyond the goal presented in its title, especially the only tests for cosmetics.
DR – FRANCOIS LAURENS/HANS LUCAS/AFP – PMA DELEGATION/CNRS PHOTO LIBRARY
Non-animal testing techniques are usually faster and cheaper, but also more reliable! – FRANCISKA GREEN
S&V: In 2022, is it really necessary to experiment on animals?
IB: Their use is subject to authorization from the Ministry of Research after the ethics committee considers that there is no way to replace them.
Then everything depends on the area in question.
Less than a third of the animals used are for the evaluation of drugs or medical devices: for this research, we can imagine that in the development of alternative approaches, some projects that in the past required animals will use less of them now, or not. to everyone tomorrow. But more than two-thirds of animals are used in basic biology, ethology or ecology: there, the animal itself is the object of study! How can we imagine, without birds, to study the effect of artificial light on their physiology, and therefore take measures to protect them from it?
FG: Ethological research conducted in the laboratory does not take into account the behavioral complexity of life in nature. Animals can be studied in their natural habitat, provided the observation methods are non-intrusive. But only 5% of experiments are done in ethology: the majority are aimed at studying human health – an area where stopping animal experimentation will help research progress! Because of biological differences between species, testing in non-human animals does not provide reliable results. Non-animal methods are the future.
This will stop biomedical research, the development of new human and veterinary drugs… – IVAN BALANCARD
S&V: What are these other methods?
FG: There are trials in vitro, which uses human cells and tissues, organs on a chip or micro-models of the brain. Computer modeling techniques are also very advanced. Finally, volunteer human subjects can be used.
IB: The last decade has seen many advances in the field of organoids and microfluidics, organs on a chip.
But these models are still far from mimicking the complexity of a living organism. However, we can rejoice that these new techniques have made it possible to reduce the number of animals used.
S&V: Can these procedures be performed quickly?
FG: In general, they are faster to implement than animal experiments, while being more reliable! With appropriate funding, political support, better dissemination of knowledge and training in new methods, the transition to animal-free science is realistic.
IB: Most research organizations have invested heavily in these new methods, but they still have limitations. We must show patience and reason: it is too early to imagine a total replacement of animal models.
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