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Searching for alternatives that minimizes the use of animal tests

More than 90% of the research carried out worldwide involves the use of animals. Many are still essential for the development of science, but in some cases it is already possible to replace them or minimize their use by implementing alternative methods or experimental models.

With this aim, the Institut Pasteur de Montevideo (IP Montevideo) organized last May the first South American course on “Alternative Methods to the Use of Lab Animals”, which was carried out together with the Regional Platform of Alternative Methods of MERCOSUL (PReMASUL).

Created in 2015, PReMASUL network seeks to generate laboratories capacities, with especial focus on training human resources able to implement alternative methods to the use of lab animals in their respective countries, and to stimulate the validation of new alternative methods in the region.

From May 21 to 25, researchers from Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay met at the institute for practical and theoretical training. Each participant would be able to transfer the learned techniques to their institutions, replicating these methodologies and offer them to their own countries.

Along with the diversity of countries, the variety of institutions present in the course collaborates to amplify voices and demonstrate the value of alternative methods today. The course was strongly supported by the National Commission for Animal Experimentation (CNEA) and the Uruguayan Association for the Science and Technology of Lab Animals (AUCyTAL).

Reconstructed Human skin and other alternatives

Guided by trainers from different countries, some of the alternative methods presented during the course focused on replacing those that traditionally use animals in skin and eye irritation tests, and in trials to measure chemical adverse reactions when exposure to light (phototoxicity test).

Usually, for this type of tests, researchers use rabbits, rats, mice or guinea pigs, explained Martina Crispo and Mariela Bollati, scientists responsible for the Transgenic and Experimental Animal Unit and the Cell Biology Unit at the IP Montevideo, respectively, and organizers of the course. However, the objective of this training was to introduce and train participants on different alternative methods available in the region.

In skin irritation tests, for example, the workshop introduced the use of reconstructed human epidermis (EpiSkin) from normal human keratinocytes cultured on a filter in a chemically defined medium. This model is histologically similar to in vivo human epidermis.

However, in the region, researchers could not use this reconstructed skin because only European laboratories produced this tissue, and the required time to arrive to South America affects the integrity of the cells.

Since 2017, the Brazilian based branch of the cosmetic company L’Oréal produces the EpiSkin model in the region, which made it possible to use it as an alternative method to animal testing in the South cone.

Other alternative test models included during the course were the use of bovine corneas of slaughtered cattle or chorioallantoic membranes (the fetal part of the placenta) of chicken eggs to replace the use of rabbits, for example, in ocular irritation tests.

The course also introduced the use of cell lines, and “in silico” methods, which are based on computer simulations that use data from existing studies to predict the results of the tests.

Alternatives in Uruguay: Where are we now?

In Uruguay, as in the rest of the world, law regulates animal testing. Approved in 2009, the 18.611 Law “Use of animals for testing, teaching and scientific research”, establishes the guidelines for the adequate treatment of animals in breeding, teaching and experimentation activities, aiming to avoid, minimize and refine their use.

Mariela Bollati and Martina Crispo with Dr. Rodrigo De Vecchi, research leader of multidisciplinary innovation projects at L’Oréal Brazil.

The law states the creation of the National Commission for Animal Experimentation (CNEA), which since 2010 has been in charge of the lab animal registry, which keeps track of all the national research that uses animals for experimentation and teaching; it also promotes the training of scientists dedicated to these tasks, and it is the certifying authority.

It also establishes the directives for the use and management of lab animals throughout the national territory, requiring that each institution using animals for these purposes has an internal Ethics Committee on the Use of Animals (CEUA) that evaluates each research protocol.

This initiative paves the way to deepen in the application of the 3Rs Principle: Reduction, Replacement and Refinement on the use of animals’ experimentation in laboratories.