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A History of Regulatory Animal Testing: What Can We Learn?

ATLA 50

A new paper in the 50th Anniversary issue of Alternatives to Laboratory Animals, co-authored by Dr Jan Turner, analyses the origins of regulations requiring animal safety tests for new medicines and whether they were justified then or now.

The thalidomide tragedy shocked the world and led to new laws requiring ‘proof of safety’ in animals, despite the irony that it was thalidomide’s near-total safety in animals that helped to cause the tragedy and would not have prevented it. This new analysis shows that moving away from animal testing is limited not by scientific possibilities, but by historical precedents and persistent beliefs that animal tests will prevent future tragedies. No amount of animal testing can eliminate the risks inherent in introducing new drugs to the market. Regarding animal tests as the gold standard gives a false sense of security, which acts as a barrier to creating potentially safer medicines and leads to human health risks, as well as the use and killing of many animals without a sound scientific basis.

Greater public and political awareness of the risks to public health that result from a continued reliance on animal testing can contribute to a shift in paradigm toward increased reliance on human-based safety testing. For scientists and regulatory bodies to contribute effectively to the transition away from animal testing, it is important that they continually reflect upon, and highlight how, an (often implicit) belief in animal testing as the gold standard continues to affect research, education, regulations, funding practices, etc. This should include a critical reflection on the 3Rs paradigm, as well as the critical perspectives of scholars from the humanities and social sciences, all of which are needed to break free from the confines of the current paradigm.

Read the whole paper here

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