Reducing the numbers of animals used in scientific experiments is the aim of cellular research under way at Aberystwyth University's Institute of Biological Sciences.
The institute has devised a battery of tests involving cell cultures and computer simulations which have proved to be as effective as the traditional animal experiments.
"Our eventual aim is to replace up to 80 per cent of animal tests with these alternatives," Richard Kemp, reader at the institute, says.
"The cosmetics industry is already switching to cell cultures, and should soon eliminate the need for animal tests. In the past, for example, animals were used to test whether new shampoos would irritate the eyes or cause corneal damage. We have developed an equally successful test using eye cells grown in a laboratory which is now being used by the industry."
The university prepares cellular-based tests for various cosmetics and toiletry companies and, in the case of Johnson and Johnson, undertakes the testing of virtually all their toiletry products.
Reducing animal testing in the pharmaceutical industry is another priority. So the university is working with companies such as Glaxo and Smith Kline Beecham to create cell-based toxicity tests for new drugs. Cellular means of predicting harmful side effects are also being investigated.
Work is also underway on eliminating the use of animals to test household cleaning products, and on developing cellular tests for pesticides and herbicides.
The Aberystwyth approach is being echoed by the European Community, which is keen to reduce animal testing in member states. It has established a new European Animal Replacement Laboratory in Italy, and is to begin financing research into effective alternatives such as cell cultures.