Experimenting on animals is a dark side of science and research. And most of us try not to think about the animals that experienced the horrors of testing when we buy medicine or cleaning supplies.

I don’t know about you, but it would make me feel a lot better if we could stop testing products on animals. What would our alternatives be?

Would we experiment on humans? And why would this delay your COVID-19 vaccine?

More than 115 million animals are used for experiments every year. They are subjected to tests for medical, pharmaceutical, cosmetic and even cleaning products.

But animal testing doesn’t always show us the whole picture. For exmaple, some toxicity tests on rodents are only 43% accurate at predicting problems in humans.

At least 85 HIV vaccines and some stroke drugs worked in animal test subjects but failed in humans. So what do you say? How about we cancel these unreliable, animal-torturing procedures altogether?

Animals make good test subjects because they are biologically similar to us. They suffer from many of the same health problems. And they have short life cycles. This allows scientists to study the effects of chemicals over several generations.

The medical and pharmaceutical industries use animal test subjects to study diseases and disorders. Animals are also used to make sure a drug, vaccine or procedure is safe and effective for human testing.

But experimenting on animals raises some ethical concerns. So industries that are required to test the safety of their products are only supposed to use animal testing as a last resort.

The pharmaceutical sector has stopped testing on animals as much. But not out of any love for our furry friends. Newer drugs target precise molecular mechanisms, and the best way to study them is in petri dishes. This is also cheaper than using live animals. So what would happen if we completely stopped animal testing?

Well, first we’d need alternatives. Luckily, we already have some.

Computers may seem like an unlikely replacement for live animals. But they could be helpful. There are thousands of chemical compound tests in online chemical databases.

Scientists can use algorithms to get this information and compare the tested chemical compounds with new chemical compounds. By looking at their structural similarities, researchers can predict the toxicity of untested chemicals.

And studies have shown that advanced algorithms are 87% accurate in predicting toxicity. That would be a great start. But it wouldn’t be good enough to release a new product.

After using algorithms, scientists and researchers would use other testing methods. They could move on to testing chemicals on cultured human cells that mimic the functions of specific organs. These are called organs-on-a-chip. And they allow researchers to test new drugs on human cells without testing directly on humans.

But I didn’t say we would never do tests on humans. Oh, we would. Now, before you panic, I’m not talking about full-blown human experimentation. That is definitely not ethical.

Instead, you would volunteer to take microdoses of a new drug. The tiny amounts wouldn’t have any huge impact on you. But there’d be enough in your body that researchers could study how the drug impacts your cells.

But none of these great alternatives would replace animal testing. Especially if we got ourselves into another pandemic. All the successful COVID-19 vaccines relied on animal testing during the early research. These tests helped scientists understand the way the immune system would respond to the vaccine.

And that is extremely important. The animal tests made sure that the vaccines wouldn’t make the infection worse. So if we stopped animal testing, we’d need to advance in vitro technology.

Scientists would take some skin cells from people with a specific illness. They would make the skin cells act more like stem cells. Then the researchers could convert those cells into any specialized cell in the human body.

So they’d have a patient-specific model of a disease in a lab dish. Eventually, we’d start growing actual organs to study diseases and test experimental medicines.

This would be a much more humane way for the cosmetic, pharmaceutical, medical and household cleaning industries to test products. And millions of animals would no longer have to suffer experimentation for human gain. Of course, the other alternative to testing on animals would be to stop doing science at all.

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