The pressure to replace animal research with non-animal methods is growing. Earlier this year, NIH has issued a “Request for Information on Catalyzing the Development and Use of Novel Alternative Methods to Advance Biomedical Research” (LINK) and there is no doubt that new funding initiatives will follow in the near future. In a similar vein, the European IHI has announced a call for proposal to accelerate “the implementation of New Approach Methodologies and other innovative non-animal approaches for the development, testing and production of health technologies“ (LINK).
These initiatives by funders are timely and there is without any doubt a need to invest more efforts to develop and implement non-animal alternatives. There is also little disagreement about areas where the use of animals in research is difficult to justify (e.g., cosmetics).
Like many of our colleagues, we were alerted last year by the FDA Modernization Act (LINK) and this year we have been following the discussion on European Citizens’ Initiative ‘Save Cruelty-free Cosmetics – Commit to a Europe without Animal Testing’ (LINK) and recognize two extreme voices heard in these discussions – “business as usual” vs “complete stop”.
Extreme opinions are expressed in nearly every discussion but, here in the context of animal research, it seems that the majority of those involved has taken either one of these two positions. And there are two reasons why the discussion is so polarized:
On the one hand, animal research did not always deliver what was expected (HERE is an interesting overview of how animal research helped us in the area of brain diseases) and the widely observed lack of rigor in research does not help either.
On the other hand, there are still not too many non-animal alternatives developed and validated to support a meaningful phasing out of animal research.
These two positions need to be brought closer together and research rigor is one bridge that can help to achieve that: First, we should advance implementation of research rigor measures in key areas of animal research that are too critical and less likely to be replaced by NAMs in the observable future. Second, and in parallel, the research community should not repeat the mistakes made with the delayed implementation of rigor into animal research and, right from this early stage, should require key work on non-animal alternatives to apply adequately high standards.