Alternative to animal testing possible

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Scientists are researching alternatives to animal testing

Anything that comes into contact with humans in any form is tested beforehand in animal experiments for a possible harmful effect. Medicines, chemicals, detergents and cleaning agents, creams, foods, gases and much more are checked. The main focus of the tests is the toxicity (toxicity), possible damage to fetuses in the womb (teratogenicity), genetic damage (mutagenicity) and whether the products have a carcinogenic property (carcinogenicity). So that the products can be used commercially on a wide scale, the tests also focus on possible harmful effects on the environment.

However, not all people see real benefits in animal experiments and the question of ethical considerations has long been a matter for discussion.

The USA is a pioneer in alternatives to animal testing. This is also one of the reasons why the USA has been researching alternatives to animal testing for a long time. Around 150 million euros were made available for this in the last year alone. In comparison, efforts in Europe are still in their infancy. In the past 15 years, the EU has spent just this amount on research.

For example, US scientists at Harvard University developed a type of mini-lung that is able to breathe. The goal is to manufacture multiple organs such as the heart, kidneys, lungs and liver in order to keep a “human on the chip”, explains toxicologist Marcel Leist from the University of Konstanz to the news agency “dpa”. In Germany, he is the only one who holds a chair for alternatives to animal testing. Day in, day out, he and his team are looking for ways to avoid animal testing or how to do it as painlessly and stress-free as possible for the animals. "We want to reduce the total amount of suffering," explains the toxicologist.

Leist, who heads the Center for Alternatives to Animal Experiments in Europe (CAAT-Europe), founded in 2010, also talks about the in vitro method practiced in Europe, in which substances in the Petri dish are tested on human or animal cells. However, the procedure alone is not sufficient to demonstrate harmlessness to humans. Unfortunately, animal testing remains part of the approval process. "You don't know what will be in 100 or 200 years. But in the next 20 years they will still be absolutely indispensable," he explains.

Almost 3.1 million animals were killed in animal experiments across Germany in 2012. If you take a closer look at the information provided by the State Ministry of Agriculture, you can see how far we are from doing without animal experiments. In southwestern Germany alone, more than 544,000 vertebrates were used in animal experiments or killed for scientific purposes in 2012. There were almost 3.1 million animals across Germany, as the statistics show. More than 2.2 million mice, along with 418,000 rats, 166,000 fish and 97,000 rabbits, have given their lives in the course of science. However, the official statistics say nothing about the suffering of the individual animals in the experiments. Animal rights activists and some scientists are calling for an end to animal testing for ethical reasons. "The torture and painful killing of animals is morally reprehensible," says the association "Doctors Against Animal Experiments". Because animals also have a right to a species-appropriate life and above all to integrity. The fact that animals are converted into measuring instruments at will and thrown away after use reflects the ethical and moral state of our society.

Animal testing alone is not enough The paradox of the tests is that they alone are not always sufficient to be able to classify a product as harmless. For medication, for example, further tests must be carried out on humans, since the results from animal experiments cannot be transferred to humans with certainty. "In any case, the same experiment must be repeated with an incalculable risk to humans. Before that, every transferring statement is speculation," says the association "Ärzte gegen Tierversuche". A mouse, for example, has a completely different way of dealing with its environment and its metabolism also different from that of a human being. Another example of the non-transferability of risks to humans is the drug aspirin, which is toxic to rats but not to humans.

This is also an argument for Leist when he speaks to those responsible in industry: "We don't achieve much on the ethical rail," he says. "We clearly say: It's about money. It's cheaper, faster and, above all, more meaningful data." He himself is not fundamentally against animal testing. "But I am disturbed by the purely materialistic view."

The view that people have a moral status from a moral point of view, or the view that people are the only living things with a morally obligated intrinsic value, should actually lead to the idea of ​​harming others as little as possible, regardless of whether they are humans or animals. "The size and moral progress of a nation can be measured by how it treats animals," said peace activist Mahatma Gandhi. (fr)

Image: Stephanie Hofschlaeger / pixelio

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