Animal testing 'not vital'

November 9, 2001

Scientific alternatives to animal experiments are not being taken seriously by the research community, according to campaigners.

Two pressure groups pushing for a reduction in vivisection in biomedical investigation called on the research councils, medical charities and learned societies to encourage non-animal work.

They want the Office of Science and Technology to coordinate a national strategy to promote alternative methods and to set up a centre to develop them.

Gill Langley, scientific adviser to the Dr Hadwen Trust for Humane Research, and Robert Combes, scientific director of the Fund for the Replacement of Animals in Medical Experiments (Frame), outlined their concerns to the House of Lords' animals in scientific procedures committee on Tuesday.

Professor Combes said there was resistance from the scientific community and there were no incentives for researchers to use other approaches. He said the government had been tardy in tackling the issue.

"We don't want to compromise science, we want to improve it," he said. "Alternatives to animal research need to be more respectable."

Professor Combes said there had been some successes, such as the introduction of in-vitro skin toxicity testing. Frame's research at Nottingham University was investigating other ways to refine, reduce and replace animal experiments, he said.

He suggested funding for more work could come from a levy on each animal used in research.

Dr Langley said the hunt for alternative procedures, such as combinations of chemical assays, ex-vivo tissue cultures and computer simulations, suffered great stigma: "It is a research field without any status."

She accused the scientific establishment of taking a defensive, pro-vivisection stance without seriously considering other approaches. She said the government should establish a centre of excellence to look into replacing animal testing and that the research councils should initiate a funding scheme for the development of individual projects.

"We need to fund studies in this field to show the science that can be done is good science," she said.

"In the 21st century we can do better science than mutilating animals and giving them diseases."

• Lack of government action to outlaw reproductive cloning could jeopardise therapeutic cloning and embryonic stem-cell research, Labour MP Ian Gibson has warned.

A judicial review is expected to rule on the lawfulness of such work by the end of November.

Dr Gibson said the absence of a legal distinction between reproductive and therapeutic cloning was fuelling attempts by pro-life campaigners to have both banned despite parliamentary support for the latter.

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