WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Testing chemicals in live animals can be expensive and slow, and newer test-tube methods may work better, the National Research Council reported on Tuesday.
Rapid, automated tests called high-throughput assays can replace animals and assess hundreds or thousands of chemicals very quickly, the Council said in its report.
“Recent advances in systems biology, testing in cells and tissues, and related scientific fields offer the potential to fundamentally change the way chemicals are tested for risks they may pose to humans,” the Council, which advises Congress and the federal government on scientific matters, said in a statement.
“The new approach would generate more-relevant data to evaluate risks people face, expand the number of chemicals that could be scrutinized, and reduce the time, money, and animals involved in testing,” it added.
Most new chemicals, pesticides and many other products are tested using live animals such as rats and mice to see if they cause cancer, skin irritation or other effects.
“But how relevant the animal tests are for humans, usually exposed at much lower doses, has often been called into question,” the Council said.
“Moreover, the current approach is time-consuming and costly, resulting in an overburdened system that leaves many chemicals untested, despite potential human exposure to them,” it added.
And animal welfare groups question the practice.
So the Environmental Protection Agency asked the independent, nonprofit Research Council to develop a new approach and strategy for toxicity testing.
A committee of toxicologists, pharmacists, environmentalists and other experts appointed by the Council recommends high-throughput assays. They could use human cells for even better accuracy.
“Over time, the need for traditional animal testing could be greatly reduced, and possibly even eliminated someday,” the Council statement said.
“For the foreseeable future, however, targeted tests in animals would need to be used to complement the in vitro tests, because current methods cannot yet adequately mirror the metabolism of a whole animal.”