A team at the Johns Hopkins University is questioning the usefulness of testing on mice, dogs and other animals. The team aims to determine just how useful animal testing is in predicting whether chemicals and drugs are toxic to humans.
Many advocates are pushing to end animal testing, saying the method is unethical and impractical. However, some chemicals and drugs must undergo animal testing, before human testing for safety purposes. It has not yet been determined how effective these tests are in predicting the toxic affects on humans.
The team will conduct research over the next year or so, in an attempt to find the answer, by comparing standard animal tests with modern scientific methods that utilize computer models or human cells.
“It’s a pivotal time to provide this evidence,” said Katya Tsaioun, who is leading the study as director of the Evidence-based Toxicology Collaboration in the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. “No one hopefully will be able to dispute the findings.”
Tsaioun went on to say that previous studies found that animal testing was not good at predicting how chemicals and drugs affect humans. She believes her review could provide the definitive evidence, which utilizes the latest toxicology science.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and U.S. Food and Drug Administration (USDA) researchers and regulators are in agreement that animal testing is necessary. The USDA oversees chemicals, while the EPA oversees drug approvals. However, both agencies have explored ways to support new tests that don’t involve animal testing to speed up the approval and development process.
Decreasing the number of drugs that show promise in animal testing, but prove to be effective or safe in humans is something that many are hoping for, as these costly, disappointing failures are hurting pharmaceutical companies.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture recently took down a website that showed in 2015, over 767,600 animals were utilized in research, including 42,159 in Maryland. Guinea pigs, rabbits, dogs, primates, cats and some farm animals were included in the number. These excluded mice, birds and rats, along with dogs held in labs, but weren’t experimented on.
The Beagle Freedom Project has offered to take dogs from research labs once studies are completed. The nonprofit contacts over 470 labs each year, but its officials refuse to disclose where the animals come. However, they say it is currently working with a few dozen labs.
“Our mission is to see an end to animals used in experiments,” said Jeremy Beckham, a research specialist for the group. “We make our case to the public on two grounds, and one is an ethical argument. These animals feel pain and suffer and experience the world much like we do. … But we also have to make the case on scientific grounds.”